Thesis supervisor: Jeremy Stolow
Thesis title: 'Believing in Spiritual Software: Artificial Intelligence & Hyper-Personalisation in Astrology Apps
Leona Nikolić is a PhD candidate in Communication Studies at Concordia University specialising in new media, app studies, and digital humanities. Her research explores relationships between technology and spirituality, the ways in which we believe in technologies, and the embodiment of consciousness in our digital objects. She is particularly interested in astrology apps for smartphones as sites of knowledge production that both shape and are shaped by ambivalent cultural narratives about human and artificial intelligence, as well as the potential for algorithmic media and AI to generate authentic spiritual experiences.
She first began investigating digital cultures and practices during her B.A. in Art History at Carleton University through research on new media art, net art, and post-internet art. During this time, she worked at the Ottawa Art Gallery, organised events at the Carleton University Art Gallery, and curated contemporary art exhibitions and performances in Ottawa and Montréal. She continued her studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), completing a research-creation M.A. in Communication and Experimental Media. Her master’s thesis, Techno-Spirituality and the Digital Self: From Smartphone Applications to Immersive Installations, examined the mediation of the self and of reality through spiritual smartphone apps for meditation, astrology, and divination. This master’s thesis also consisted of a creative project— a digital meditation experience designed to reveal the participant’s ‘digital aura’ through a subversive exploration of our intimacy with our smartphones.
At UQAM, Leona was an active member of Hexagram, an international research-creation network, and of CELAT (Centre de recherches Cultures – Arts – Sociétés). She also served as a Coordinator for the 19th Inter-University Communication Studies Student Conference at UQAM. At Concordia University, Leona is a member of the Centre for Sensory Studies; the Media History Research Centre and the Speculative Life Cluster of the Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology; and the Global Emergent Media Lab. She is conducting her research under the supervision of Jeremy Stolow, an expert in religion and media studies leading innovative research on the use of media technologies as instruments of spiritual practice.
Leona has been invited to present at academic conferences in Montréal, London, Istanbul, and Tours (France). Her research has been published in academic journals, her creative writing has been featured in various literary publications, and she has participated as an artist in a handful of group art shows. Her latest publication appeared in MAST: The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory (State University of New York at Buffalo) and she recently participated in a round table, “What We Do with Screens and What Screens Do to Us” at Écran Total: Exhibition & Symposium (Centre de design de l’UQAM).
Nikolić, L. (2021). De l’esprit au téléphone intelligent : un récit flou de l’objet le plus spirituel de notre époque. Actes de colloque Rendez-vous de la recherche émergente 2020. Montréal, 4–25 juin 2020. Montréal, Québec. [In Press].
Nikolić, L. (2021) Exploring Hyperreal Transcendence through Research-Creation: The Smartphone as Spiritual Interface between the Real and Virtual Selves. MAST: The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory 1(2). University at Buffalo, State University of New York, 40–50.
Nikolić, L. (2020). Self, Spirit, and Smartphone: The Commodification of Spirituality through Smartphone Applications. The 2nd Communication in the Digital Age Symposium: Abstract Book. İzmir University of Economics, Turkey, 118.
Nikolić, L. (2019). Carnet de rêves. Cahier d’école, 4, 52–57.
Conferences & Round Tables
Nikolić, L. (2021, November 17). The Self, the Smartphone, and the Stars in the Apps [Conference presentation]. Apps spirituelles : Applications religieuses et de méditation, Université de Tours, France.
Nikolić, L., Audry, S., Bonaccorsi, J., Bricenco, C., & Vial, S. (2021, May 20). In C. Piazzesi (Chair), Ce que nous faisons avec les écrans et ce que les écrans font de nous [Round Table]. ÉCRAN TOTAL Exhibition & Symposium, Centre de design de l’UQAM, Montréal, Québec.
Nikolić, L. (2020, October 27). Self, Spirit, and Smartphone: The Commodification of Spirituality through Smartphone Applications [Conference presentation online]. The 2nd Communication in the Digital Age Symposium, İzmir University of Economics, İzmir, Turkey.
Nikolić, L. (2020, June 25). De l’esprit au téléphone intelligent : un récit flou de l’objet le plus spirituel de notre époque [Conference presentation online]. Rendez-vous de la recherche émergente 2020, Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur la littérature et la culture québécoises (CRILCQ), UQAM, Montréal, Québec.
Nikolić, L. (2020, May 11–12). Qu’est-ce que je fais exactement ? Le conte d’un projet de recherche-création très expérimental [Conference presentation]. Colloque interuniversitaire étudiant du CELAT 2020, UQAM, Montréal, Québec. (Conference cancelled due to COVID-19).
Nikolić, L. (2020, April 16–18). iSpiritual: Smartphone Applications for the Digital Soul [Conference presentation]. Media Industries 2020, King’s College, London, England (Conference cancelled due to COVID-19).
Nikolić, L. (2021). Soli: Digital Meditation Experience [Immersive installation]. École des médias de l'UQAM, Montréal, Québec.