The use of digital and virtual technologies to comment upon eco-catastrophe may at first seem contradictory; if we think of environmental practice, our minds alight upon natural materials; stone, clay, wood. From grandiose interventions in the natural world as part of a sculpture trail, or finger wagging reminders in a white cube gallery of our callous gluttony as consumers of natural resources. Automation and the invisible needle-stitch of the internet and telecommunications feels somehow dirty (man-made) to that which is pure (nature-made). But what if we are wrong to make this blunt distinction?
The author, scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock – who at 101 years of age speaks with the experience of a (mere) century in which we as a species reluctantly acknowledged our impact – first proposed the Gaia hypothesis in the 1960s. This theory suggests that the Earth is a self-regulating system, making no distinction between that which is living and non-living. To conceive of the planet in this way, as a single, albeit complex organism, technological innovation arises from just one branch of its many varied tendrils. The digital domain is therefore no different to a flowering shrub – and this is where HOME’s Future 20 collective step up, to best propagate its use as a critical pollinator of ideas.
To embark upon the floating vessel that is Last Place On Earth (2020), a new collaborative virtual reality artwork by HOME’s Future 20 Collective and Studio Morison, is to sail across the digital waves for a hypnotic, durational contemplation. With similar qualities to a guided meditation, or in stark contrast, a first-person shoot ‘em up (albeit from the perspective of the monsters, mouths-agape at having stripped our larder bare), multiple voices combine as one to coalesce soundscape, poetry, pattern, form, texture and narrative; a soup of personal archives with a singular purpose – reflect, repent, reshape.
That the viewer moves through themed states – Black Light to Bleak Sea, Soft Stone to Nexus Valley – suggests an alchemical transformation may be underway: the practice of an ancient proto-chemistry that sought to transform base matter into gold. Can we do the same with ourselves? We may stand upon the precipice of our own destruction, yet Future 20 and Studio Morrison refuse to issue dire warnings, nor apologise for idealism. Instead, having successfully avoided the antler-clash of competing egos, we can learn from their subsumed selves which never once attempt to claim a solo spotlight. This is how we work as one.
As I swim and luxuriate in the landscapes of Last Place On Earth, I’m reminded of the Wild West culture-rush to the game engine of Second Life at the start of this century, from which an artwork such as Chinese artist Cao Fei’s RMB City (2009-11) arose: part utopia, part hellish toybox, an escape to a lawless new frontier when lived reality feels unsalvageable. The gigantic landforms and often breathtaking architectural interventions by the group are also reminiscent of the land art movement, from Walter De Maria to Agnes Denes. Although digital, LPOA can also be considered a sculptural totem that bears repeat visits.
Scrub ahead, skip back, press pause – just don’t hit fast-forward. We already did that as a species.
Special thanks to Studio Morrison, the stage mom spitting into a tissue to wipe any smudges from our view. It is due to their mentorship and generous facilitation of the Future 20 group that we are able to experience a work of real ambition and genuine resonance.
Bren O’Callaghan, Curator, HOME
Last Place On Earth, 2020. Film Still. HOME Future 20 Collective and Studio Morison. Image courtesy Studio Morison