The Data Souls

David Thomas Henry Wright

Set in a distant future, The Data Souls imagines the discovery of seven rusted data storage devices that define our contemporary age. Their contents use various data sets to generate multiple text performances. While the data is knowable, its causes and reverberations are not. This data is used to 3D model and print correlating artefacts. Each flash fiction or ‘soul’ contains images and recordings of the 3D printed artefact.

Soul #1, The Veblen Good, uses fluctuating currency values from 2011 to 2019 to transform various words and phrases of a narrative involving a meta-company behind all human innovation. The currency values are used to sculpt a corresponding egg.

Soul #2, Bibliophilia, uses the human freedom index to slowly censor the work. The text itself is about a European culture that burns books, only to be overthrown by an ideology that literally loves – or fetishizes – books. A marble book receives holes in sizes relative to the freedom index cited.

Soul #3, The Second Tiananmen Square Massacre, uses provincial Chinese male/female ratios to fluctuate between three variations of the same story, which concerns the failure of a mythical qilin to bring democracy to contemporary China. A 3D model of a human foetus is cut in half in correlation to the data.

Soul #4, the town the rabbit ate, uses rabbit populations to multiply the word rabbit in a narrative about a child abandoned in rural Australia to a town overrun by rabbits; meanwhile ‘growths’ are added to a muscle-textured rabbit.

Soul #5, Mes/s/se©, tells the story of an interdisciplinary Cambodian scholar who escapes Pol Pot’s regime, and uses global temperature anomalies to grow an ‘exploding sun’-like space that consumes the text. This data is used to cut craters into a desolate Earth.

Soul #6, The Man Who Watched Cook Australia, Cook! is one extended, unbroken sentence describing one man’s addiction to a cooking reality TV show, and uses average time spent per day on the Internet to reposition the text. This data is represented on a rusty satellite.

The final soul is a poetry generator that uses the vocabulary from the six other souls to generate a three-line poem. Treating the text as ‘data’, data again becomes central to the work.

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About the Artist

David Thomas Henry Wright won the 2018 Queensland Literary Awards’ Digital Literature Prize and 2019 Robert Coover Award for a work of Electronic Literature (2nd prize). He has been shortlisted for several other awards, and published in various journals. He has a PhD from Murdoch University and a Masters from The University of Edinburgh. He is currently co-editor of The Digital Review and Associate Professor (Comparative Literature) at Nagoya University.