Evie Godfrey2023 Longlist, Opening Up

Voidopolis is a digital performance of loss and memory released as an augmented reality (AR) book with a limited lifespan by MIT Press Leonardo Series / Penguin Random House in August 2023. The story loosely retells Dante’s Inferno as if it were the dystopic experience of wandering through New York City during a pandemic; instead of Virgil, the narrator is guided through this modern hellscape by a caustic hobo named Nikita.

Voidopolis began as a screen-based literary and artistic work, in a series of Instagram posts unfolding in 2020-21, and from the outset was meant to have the concept of loss embedded in every detail of its formal presentation. It features images created by digitally “wiping” humans from stock photography and text that is generated without the letter “e”—in homage to Oulipo author Georges Perec’s A Void, a 300-page novel written entirely without the letter—by augmenting the outputs of an AI text generator.

The Instagram posts were ultimately deleted, and the book is likewise designed to disappear: its garbled pages can only be deciphered with an AR app, and they decay over a period of one year. Only the printed book, with its unintelligible pages, remains. The idea for this ‘decay’ is that it might work the way memory does, with partial glimpses and dream-like bits of language remaining even after an event has ended. Each July 1, the date the project first started on Instagram, the book resets again, beginning anew the cycle of its own vanishing. The work’s enactment of its own disappearance across all copies of the book worldwide turns the private act of reading into a collective experience of loss.

The experience of reading Voidopolis is one of contingency. Augmented Reality is an additive process, so the format of the book as a work that decays and disappears came from this desire to maintain the work’s conceptual integrity by finding a format for further loss. By ultimately disappearing, this work makes a case for a collective amnesia that follows cataclysm.

Voidopolis has been recognized as both a work of literature (Arts and Letters ‘Unclassifiable’ Prize, European Literature Night, etc) and as a work of new media art (2023 Lumen Prize shortlist, Ars Electronica, New Images Festival Paris Official Selection), and has been exhibited internationally in a variety of digital and physical formats.

Note: the best way to experience Voidopolis is as a physical book alongside the AR app published with it. Please be in touch with an address where I can have the publisher mail physical copies for review.