The future London of Hari Kunzru’s The Memory Palace, a book that has exploded out of its binding onto the walls of the V&A in a one-of-a-kind exhibition, doesn’t feel too far away. In fact, it feels unnervingly familiar, like the hallucinogenic nightmare which haunts city sleepers after they emerge from a day spent locked in their screens. Twenty artists have been commissioned to envisage Kunzru’s dystopian world where the information networks to which we have entrusted our lives have been burnt away by an apocalyptic magnetic storm. Through illustration and typography to graphic design and comic books, the terrifying prospect of a life without memory is realised. Imprisoned by an official policy of forgetting, humankind lives in a digital dark age, having wiped out knowledge and history, where the world is ruled by a group of purists who believe to write and record is a sin against nature.
Paired with the simplicity of Kunzru’s language, which is written on the walls, this disjointed pool of images and objects rethinks the reading experience. In a protest against the mighty rule of the Kindle and its glowing single page, the reader walks through the book and its ideas. This disturbing imaginarium magnifies the signs and symbols that govern our daily lives, making strange and tragic poetry from mundane data and the contents of our rubbish bins. The result is a celebration of imagination underpinned by a collective fear of a life without it.