At last week's urban-inspired Moniker Art Fair in London, a new virtual reality piece made users confront sociopolitical issues through an immersive virtual tour of the modern world. Created by artist duo Jose Montemayor and Bec Abdy, Death is Only the Beginning takes cues from the emotional, revelationary state said to be experienced by a person after having a near-death experience. The result, however, ignites social consciousness in those who wear the VR headset.
Using 360 degree panoramas shot in the UK and Mexico, alongside a chilling voiceover and soundscape, Death is Only the Beginning presents a range of global topics paired with shocking written statistics. “Through my research I understood that people who have a near-death experience come back completely changed," Montemayor tells The Creators Project. "We’re not trying to distract people from reality but bring them back into real life situations with new information so that they can understand reality on a steeper level.”
Stepping inside approximately 19 different realms—both mystical settings and real-world places—a range of topics are explored, from climate change to global hunger. Users decide how long they wish to spend in each scene, making them the passive directors of their own consumption of facts and figures. Says Montemayor, “We shot a scene outside of London on an abandoned mountain pile of garbage, for example, to represent the visual message of the excessive waste produced by humans."
Digging into philosophical and psychological studies into near-death experiences, like those of Raymond Moody and Rick Strassman, the 10-15 minute long VR piece plays on hallucinogenic and psychedelic concepts including out-of-body experiences and "light at the end of a tunnel" perception. By placing the user into familiar settings with narratives focused on social problems, previous perceptions of the world as one knows it are altered in Death is Only the Beginnning's phenomenological afterlife realm.
“We’ve had so many different types of reactions,” Montemayor says. “People were getting very emotional, some crying, opening up, raising conversations about psychedelics or consciousness, for example. This is what we wanted to do, plant these seeds of awakening to raise conversations and also to raise awareness of about what’s happening at the moment in the world.”
Their first VR piece, self-taught by way of the internet, was a year in the making, albeit with low resolution. But all of that is changing fast: “I think the beauty and potential of this technology is limitless,” says Montemayor. “Your brain receives the message much stronger. I’ve never experienced such impact in my work then when I’ve worked with this technology. It really takes people out of their daily lives, or their own bubble, and brings them an immersive type of experience.”
Death is Only the Beginning was shown at the Moniker Art Fair from October 6 - 9, 2016. With more exhibitions and VR experiences planned, Montemayor and Adby have created a platform for emerging VR projects focused on similar themes of heightening human consciousness. See more of their work here.