- Shortlisted for the 2023 Lumen Prize.
160 pp., 5 x 7 in, 47 color photos
- Published: August 22, 2023
- Publisher: The MIT Press
Shortlisted for the 2023 Lumen Prize, a hybrid digital artistic and literary project in the form of an augmented reality book, which retells Dante's Inferno as if it were set in pandemic-ravaged New York City.
Voidopolis is a digital performance about loss and memory presented as an augmented reality (AR) book with a limited lifespan. The book loosely retells the story of Dante's Inferno as if it were the dystopic experience of wandering through New York City during the pandemic; instead of Virgil, however, the narrator is guided through this modern hellscape by a caustic hobo named Nikita.
Voidopolis is meant to culminate in loss. It features images that are 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 using a modified GPT-2 text generator. The book, adapted from a series of Instagram posts that were ultimately deleted, is likewise designed to disappear: its garbled pages can only be deciphered with an AR app, and they decay at the same rate over a period of one year, after which the decay process restarts and begins again. At the end of this decay cycle, only the printed book, with its unintelligible pages, remains. Each July 1, the date the project first started on Instagram, the book resets again, beginning anew the cycle of its own vanishing.
A first-of-its-kind augmented reality book from a major university press, Voidopolis is a unique and deeply affecting artwork that speaks as much to our existential moment as it does to the fragility of experience, reality, and our connection to one another.
“Voidopolis is a deeply engaging and beautiful work of erasure that invites the reader to fill in its blanks, standing in the role technology itself plays. Offering readers a parable via Dante's own traversal of inferno, purgatory, and paradise, Mustatea creates a clever and useful corollary for this moment in which so many people feel profoundly, inexorably lost.”
Amaranth Borsuk, Associate Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, and Director, MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, University of Washington, Bothell; author of The Book
“With its dependence on augmented reality and its origins in the performativity of social media, Mustatea's Voidopolis is the most modern retelling of Dante's Inferno on offer for our post-pandemic times. It depends on the infernal journey charted by Dante but is pervaded by a sense of loss not even present there. The medieval poem is a testament to memory and even in its fiction reads like a chronicle of history. Voidopolis is a true medieval dream vision, haunting and profoundly disturbing in its disappearing act. We, the readers, witness a tangible, interactive world that becomes immaterial and inaccessible with every attempt to enter it.”
Kristina M. Olson, Associate Professor of Italian and Italian Program Coordinator, Department of Modern and Classical Languages, George Mason University
“As an ardent believer in hybrid literary ecosystems, I savored the experience of reading Voidopolis—a powerful fusion of that most ancient technological device, the book, with next-gen innovations and augmentations that meaningfully deepen the work's investigation of language, memory, and loss.”
Sasha Stiles, poet, language artist, and author of Technelegy