In the gutted shell of an abandoned bowling alley in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a 150 member strong artist collective called Meow Wolf has just thrown open the doors to a new immersive art environment. The group was started nearly ten years ago by both artists and fabricators in order to plan events that were situated in-between large scale art exhibitions and massive parties. The home of the group’s latest environment, a role-playing installation titled The House of Eternal Return, was purchased by Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin with the express purpose of turning the space into Meow Wolf’s large-scale vision.
The transformed and sprawling 20,000 square foot world serves as an unique combination of art exhibition, fantasy world, jungle gym, and children’s museum. Unlike a sterile museum however, you’re allowed to touch everything, go anywhere, push unlimited buttons, and crawl inside of anything that strikes your interest in the boundless environment. Clearly a spiritual sister to St. Louis’ famous City Museum.
“The group has long been inspired by monumental works of art,” Vince Kadlubek, one of Meow Wolf’s organizers, told Colossal. “But I think we are equally inspired by arcades, theme parks, Burning Man, grocery stores, nature—immersive spaces. At the heart of it we are probably most inspired by the forts we built growing up and certainly Nickelodeon, MTV, Jim Henson, Tumblr, and Twin Peaks.”
At the center of the installation is a full-size two-story home which you enter through the front door. This front door however is not how you exit the giant structure, as refrigerators, fireplaces, and toilets serve as portals to more expansive worlds. While peeking into each room of the Victorian house you learn about the Seligs, the inhabitants of the home who include an artist, her inventor husband, and their young son. Your mission for this fabricated world is to discover what interdimensional incident happened in the house, gathering clues with each room you explore, each cabinet you open. No matter where you go in the fictional world, you are interacting with some detailed aspect of the larger narrative. Some tangents get you closer to the mystery, while others fill in details about the family’s long and complicated ancestry.
The creative process for creating such an involved experience took 18 months, in part because the installation and storyline were being built in tandem. “We had a team of six writers who had a specific story arc with specific plot points and characters, but much of the story elements were written from backgrounds of the objects and spaces that were being created,” said Kadlubek. “Our creative process is not top-down. It is lateral.”
The artspace is a video game come to life, allowing you to physically explore areas of the universe without bumping your avatar into a digital wall. You can instead enter into dissected vehicles, explore a dome covered in glistening animal eyes, or play music by hitting the ribs of a fossilized mastodon. All of these objects were created by the collective in their extensive wood shop, from dinosaur remains to the house’s ornate window frames.
General mission for the House of Eternal Return is $15 for New Mexico residents and $18 for those out of state. Over the next couple of months musicians will begin to perform in the installation’s venue Fancy Town with a line-up that includes Explosions in the Sky, Of Montreal, CocoRosie, and Mykki Blanco. To see upcoming events and peek inside the massive world of Meow Wolf, take a look at their Instagram and Facebook. (via ars technica and i09)