Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the March 24, 2016 issue of DGO, following the opening weekend of “The House of Eternal Return” at Meow Wolf.The adventure started with a group of artist friends who were headed to Santa Fe for the weekend. There would be an art installation opening at someplace called Meow Wolf. That’s all I knew. Just come, they said. With this awesome dynamic group combined with some art space called Meow Wolf? Rrrrrrwwwowwwww! Hail yes!
I cannot say it more simply. What I encountered in Santa Fe at Meow Wolf changed my life, altered my DNA, made me rethink what was possible through art, forced me to see the world differently.
I tell you this: You must go.
Part of what made the experience so amazing was that I had no idea what I was walking into. So, as much as I can, I’d like to preserve that aspect for when you go. Because you will go. You have to go. An empty void will exist in your heart for the rest of your days if you don’t go. You must go.
First, I’ll try to describe the indescribable. The 20,000-square foot high-concept permanent installation called “House of Eternal Return,” was built by a collective of 135 artists with $2.7 million donated by famed author George R.R. Martin. The first thing you encounter upon entering is a house, a full-sized, full-fledged, expansive house. You walk in and the house is meticulously furnished and decorated like any real house, down to family photos on the walls, posters and trinkets in the kids’ rooms, books on the shelves, everything. It feels as if you’re snooping through someone’s life. From there, the mind-blowing, mind-twisting, sense-overloading, overwhelming journey begins. Only you don’t quite realize it, or the extent of it or how far it will take you.
From the house are real-life, life-size portals into other worlds, imaginative worlds. Think Alice in Wonderland or Willy Wonka. To get there, you walk through portals, refrigerator doors or an unassuming closet in a bedroom.
Everything in the space is interactive, and you are encouraged to touch everything. Nobs on trees create sounds. A haphazard, spiral staircase makes your surroundings light up as you go up and down.
There is an overarching narrative that ties everything together, which unfolds as you make your way through the installation, something you begin realizing then investigating as you go. That’s where memory and paying attention to detail makes the experience amazing. For instance, a small 8-inch experimental model of a laser, sound-making contraption on a desk in one bedroom is a fully realized room in imaginary land, with what could only be described as functional laser harp with smoke and laser shows happening around it, a situation that nearly took me to see God.
The scope and immensity of the art produced for this show was unreal. The artists produced easily thousands and thousands of works of art in every medium imaginable, filling and covering 70 different individual immersive spaces. Each work on its own would elicit attention and praise if it stood alone in Durango, or maybe anywhere. One room – a kitchen – was painted in black and white to look as if you were standing inside a real-life cartoon. Elsewhere in one corner was a museum-style display case, full of trinkets and small sculptures. One was a 10-inch killer whale made of dozens and dozens of tiny killer whales. And this was one of a hundred pieces inside a room inside a room inside a world. That’s how the entire installation is. We spent over four hours inside, and I am certain there were many things we never saw.
The show made you question your surroundings and the reality within the reality. I found myself trying every door, opening every drawer, touching everything for what might happen. Often, there was something.
“House of Eternal Return” combines so many pieces: intellectual, artistic, sensory, textual. Upon leaving, our group was exhausted, mentally and physically.
I can’t even begin to describe it.