Something alarming is underway at the V&A. Collecting, recording and writing (the lifeblood of museum culture) are all to be outlawed. A blanket ban on technology, books, art – any sort of mark-making, in fact – will herald an era of extreme simplicity, one in which the act of remembering will become an act of rebellion.
Thankfully, this bleak scenario is not a controversial change of policy but a new exhibition, a collaboration between the museum and Sky Arts Ignition. Based on a story by novelist and journalist Hari Kunzru, it imagines a scenario that, like much dystopian fiction, has its roots in the reality of some repressive regimes, past and present. The story’s narrator, imprisoned for being a member of a banned sect dedicated to reviving the ancient art of memory, hoards fragments of retrieved knowledge and dubs his cell a ‘Memory Palace’.
Twenty artists, drawn from the disciplines of comics, illustration typography and advertising, have each been asked to respond to a different passage from Kunzru’s non-linear tale of a world where the global information infrastructure has been destroyed by a magnetic storm. Visitors will be able to view, and in some instances interact with, the works in whatever order they choose.
Without memory, this exhibition asks, would civilisation be doomed? It’s a good time to pose the question. Dystopian stories are fast displacing sexy vampire tales as the young-adult genre of choice and a growing openness to the idea of consuming books in non-traditional ways suggests there will be an eager audience for an immersive installation that is being billed as a ‘walk-in book’. Not to mention all those students graduating from art and design courses with their fingers crossed that the world actually wants the skills they’ve spent the past three years acquiring.