Presented in the form of a 360° film, the virtual reality of Last Place On Earth envisions a post-apocalyptic world where human civilisation is no more.
At first glance, its fantasy graphics echo that of a video game – but in a video game, there’s no doubt that you’re the main character. All the quests revolve around you and the world is created for your delight. Despite its holographic skies and dusty landscape, Last Place On Earth does not, in fact, resemble a familiar dystopian CGI wasteland. Instead, this virtual reality wastes no time exploring the possibility of future human survival, and mankind is no longer the main character. Last Place On Earth provides a welcome and unorthodox twist on the usual dystopian world, turning the spotlight on Mother Nature, a living, breathing organism – reborn.
A digital exhibition created by HOME Manchester’s Future 20 in collaboration with Ivan Morison, the video guides you through five fantasy sites inspired by the classical elements: Black Light (Fire), Bleak Sea (Water), Surface Cloud (Air), Soft Stone (Earth), and Nexus Valley (Aether).
The message of the first realm is unmistakable; in this world, there are no survivors. While eerie voices describe the birth of a ‘new Eden’, the viewer is steered through a pulsating neon substance and into a virtual recreation of Manchester’s Tony Wilson Place, burning and deserted. There are none of the beautiful green landscapes one might expect from an exhibition promoting environmental consciousness, a skilful reversal of expectations on Future 20’s behalf. Having watched my home city become a blackened wreck, it became clear that the artists have not created a world where mankind can bargain with Mother Nature. Instead, we are at her mercy. This appears to be the ethos of Last Place On Earth, a land where the relationship between mankind and the environment is reversed and re-examined.
‘Surface Cloud’ presents us with one of the most inventive elements of the exhibition: a floating structure composed of huge dried bones. In this realm, the VR experience is at its best. Even just on a mobile phone, skeletal structures seem to swoop past the screen and move in harmony with one another above the desert floor. The significance of the architecture goes unexplained, and while the first half of the video asserts a clear message of disaster, the second half is more ambiguous. It’s true, the colourful skies and neon shapes still bear a certain resemblance to the lands in Halo and Skyrim, but the journey to a golden oasis allows you to escape into a new world that prompts you into asking a key question. We know what destruction looks like, but what might the planet become without us?
At the risk of getting carried away, I don’t think Future 20 are suggesting that planet Earth is suddenly about to grow golden floating mushrooms (although it’s still a possibility). Nonetheless, the rift between human civilisation and the natural world is an undeniable reality. “You thought yourself worthy,” said the voices on the soundtrack, and it’s true. This fantasy world doesn’t exist for my delight, and I’ve been put in my place. Perhaps this is the success of a virtual reality tour – it forces you to sit back, relax, and, erm, address your own God complex. With memorable visuals and a hypnotic soundtrack, the exhibition successfully draws attention to our place in nature, and as the video ends gazing down at the new world through a golden veil, this feels like a resounding message of hope.