Words by Kat Mustatea
January 13, 2021
Voidopolis is a digital performance about loss and memory that is currently unfolding over 40-ish posts on my Instagram feed (@kmustatea). It is a loose retelling of Dante’s Inferno, informed by the grim experience of wandering through NYC during a pandemic. Instead of the poet Virgil, my guide is a caustic hobo named Nikita. Voidopolis makes use of synthetic language, generated in this instance without the letter ‘e’ and the images are created by “wiping” humans from stock photography. The piece is meant to culminate in loss, so will eventually be deleted from my feed once the narrative is completed. By ultimately disappearing, this work makes a case for a collective amnesia that follows cataclysm.
The project was part of Ars Electronica Festival in 2020 because of the computational techniques employed in its making. It was ‘exhibited’ in the form of an Instagram takeover of one of their partner organizations, Codame Art + Tech, based in San Francisco. It received a Literature prize from the Cafe Royal Cultural Foundation and was featured in Dovetail Magazine. True to its hybrid status across literature, technology, and social media, Voidopolis won the 2020 Arts and Letters Prize For Literature, given to works that “blur, bend, blend, erase, or obliterate genre and other labels.” Judge Michael Martone noted:
“Voidopolis takes to heart and exploits the reality that a writer today is not simply a “writer” who writes, creating a text, but a media artist not using a 19th century typewriter but an extremely powerful typesetting machine now connected to the internet. I was also attracted to the ephemeral nature of the piece, its temporary-ness. A piece about the virus infects itself with its own digital virus that rewrites and then erases the living codes.”
After Voidopolis (which corresponds roughly to Dante’s ‘Inferno’) I will be writing two more parts, corresponding roughly to Dante’s ‘Purgatorio’ and ‘Paradiso.’ Each of the subsequent two parts will have their own distinct language constraint and visual style, establishing each its own mood of increasing hope as we emerge from pandemic (aka, return to an uneasy kind of Paradise/normalcy).
About The Artist
Kat Mustatea is playwright and technologist whose tech-native storytelling stretches theater into the digital age. She has written plays in which people turn into lizards, a woman has a sexual relationship with a swan, and a one-eyed cyclops tries to fit into Manhattan society by getting a second eye surgically implanted in his head. She is a co-curator of EdgeCut, a live performance series that explores our complex relationship to the digital, and a member of NEW INC, the art and tech incubator at The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City. Her TED talk is about algorithms and puppets, and she speaks frequently about the intersection of cutting edge technology and art (most recently at SXSW, The Pompidou Center, Ars Electronica).