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New spaces, new stories at Meow Wolf

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Another year, another round of upgrades to Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return.

Earlier this month, the Santa Fe-based arts corporation’s permanent exhibition reopened after shutting its doors for about two weeks.

A renovation period has occurred each year since the House’s 2016 debut. Staff describe the down time as a chance for deep cleaning, minor touch-ups, as well as adding new installations.

“We’re really excited about this year because there were both narrative upgrades, as well as collaborating artists that did a lot of awesome projects here,” Han Santana-Sayles, Meow Wolf’s artist liaison, said during a recent tour. She curated the six guest artists who made new contributions to the House.

For the first time, the collaborations include bringing in international designers. The exhibition’s two new installations were made by artists from Canada and Australia.

The artistic changes are in addition to a newly unveiled narrative chapter for the House, “The Rift,” Santana-Sayles added. Meow Wolf fans know the strange story of the House’s residents emerges with close examination of the installation’s details.

Santana-Sayles said the Santa Fe upgrade was a good “refresher” for Meow Wolf’s team.

“To see tangible things happening and to see the House getting little additions to it motivates all of us to keep going and to have renewed energy in what we’re doing in the project, to see it come to life like this,” she said.

Outside of Santa Fe, Meow Wolf is exploding nationwide, with several major projects on the horizon, including new permanent exhibitions similar to the House of Eternal Return planned for Las Vegas, Denver, Washington, D.C., and, as announced Friday, Phoenix. It’s indoor “dark ride” at Denver’s Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park is slated to open in April.

Evolving the ‘story universe’

By adding new characters, storylines and clues, “The Rift” was Meow Wolf’s way of expanding the “story universe” beyond the mystery of the fictional Selig-Pastore family, according to Joanna Garner, who has a very cool job title – director of exhibition narrative.

The family is the narrative focal point for the House of Eternal Return. This new chapter could connect to the stories explored in the new Meow Wolf branches in other cities.

So what is The Rift?

“This idea of The Rift plays on the idea of what the family has done having lasting and far-reaching effects into the Multiverse, and that rip in time and space has created an ongoing rift that allows new entities into this world,” Garner explained.

In this new chapter, she explained, a hacker has created a digital portal that allowed a group of sisters from the future, the Umbra sisters, into the Multiverse with hopes of going back in time to prevent an apocalypse.

Meow Wolf tapped New York-based Afro-futurist storytellers Tyler English-Beckwith and Hakeem Adewumi to develop these characters, said Garner. Hints of the sisters’ presence can be noticed during the introduction video that shows before guests enter the House.

Another new character, Eng, is a “multi-dimensional,” shapeshifting creature. The new chapter hints at the idea that Eng may have embodied the main family’s grandmother, Jean Selig, in the past.

Because this new portal into the Multiverse is a digital one, video installations for The Rift are also going to be rolled out on Meow Wolf’s website and social media in coming months. Garner said that’s a way to expand how viewers can connect to the overall story.

“It’s the expanding of the Multiverse and giving our audience opportunities to follow those trails,” she said.

Katie Green of Canada designed this new exhibit at Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Katie Green of Canada designed this new exhibit at Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Marriage of values

This year was the first time Meow Wolf worked with international artists on the House of Eternal Return, CEO Vince Kadlubek confirmed. The Australian installation artist known as pip & pop and Calgary-based multimedia artist Katie Green were tapped to create new installations.

Also, silkscreen printer Dominique Pétrin of Montreal created a multi-patterned mural connecting wall spaces surrounding the concert stage and the wall adjacent to the second-floor Light Boxes installation. The work creates what Santana-Sayles described as a new “geometric universe.”

“We’re at the caliber that now it’s appropriate for us to work with them (the international artists) and they were so excited to do a project with us, too,” Santana-Styles said. “It’s just really cool where we can be at that level.”

But she also emphasized combining local and out-of-town talent. “It was a really nice marriage of those things, of our values, which is expanding, growing, doing more ground-breaking work, and also being sincere to our roots in Santa Fe and trying to engage local artists.”

Vince Kadlubek, co-founder of Meow Wolf, stands next to a sculpture by artist pip & pop in the lobby of the House of Eternal Return.

Vince Kadlubek, co-founder of Meow Wolf, stands next to a sculpture by artist pip & pop in the lobby of the House of Eternal Return.

Replacing the former mechanical hand room on the first floor is pip & pop’s first permanent installation.

Pip & pop is the working name of Australian artist Tanya Schultz. Along with her partner Chad Hedley and two assistants, she brought her signature bright, rainbow-colored, sweet-looking artwork to Santa Fe. The work is made up of found objects, glitter and hardened sugar, and, as Santana-Sayles pointed out, includes small constructed creatures placed throughout its landscapes. Pip & pop has shown in solo and group exhibitions around the world.

Santana-Sayles described the artist’s work as “these super maximalist, sugar, sweet candy environments that are kind of utopian in feeling.”

“It makes you feel (you’re) in a different world that you stepped into where everything is graceful and dream-like. But its also excessive, it’s like too much, so there’s something really overly abundant about everything they do.”

While the pip & pop collaboration was more about letting artists do their signature work before Meow Wolf worked it into a storyline, others made something specifically tied into the House of Eternal Return narrative.

A nest for Eng

On the second floor, a walk-in space that previously held a large water tank was transformed into a nest-like room for the new Eng character. The installation was created by Canada’s Green in collaboration with the Meow Wolf narrative team. Some of the animals or creature forms Eng may take on are represented through wall paintings. In other sections, the forms are more three-dimensional, like a face sculpted into the wall, and two giant hands emerging from the ground and clinging to a window.

In a phone interview from Calgary, Green said she first visited Meow Wolf and connected with Santana-Sayles during a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute last fall. She had been following Meow Wolf’s work via social media for about a year before that.

Green says she was drawn to Eng’s “ethereal” quality, noting that the character’s form is not necessarily defined. That open-endedness, and the concept of shape-shifting and morphing lent itself to the characters Green makes in her own body of work, she said.

She also teamed up with members of the Meow Wolf audio team to add custom “kinetic” noises and tracks into the room. She referred to abstract tapping sounds that are made through a solenoid – a coil powered by electric currents – placed within the former water tank’s walls. It creates an aural illusion that something is tapping on the outside of the room, which adds to the mystery of the space. Inside the room’s reclining bench are heartbeat sounds.

“You can go in and close your eyes, and have an entire experience, which I found really cool,” said Green. Because of the thick walls, nearly all of the sounds and reverberations happening in the installation are absorbed and can’t be heard outside this particular space.

A mural by Frank Buffalo Hyde has been added to the House of Eternal Return.

A mural by Frank Buffalo Hyde has been added to the House of Eternal Return.

Other smaller additions from new artists include murals in the lobby hallway by Santa Fe artist Frank Buffalo Hyde, Albuquerque’s Haley Greenfeather English and Meow Wolf Las Vegas artist Spencer Olsen.

Inside the Multiverse, local returning artists Janell Langford, Mikey Rae and Tim Jag all added new wall works. Original House of Eternal Return artist Julian Gingell’s new installation on the first floor, the “Upside Down Park,” has a bench, garbage can and a giant ant hanging upside down from the ceiling. A large acrylic, backlit wall piece similar to a picnic blanket is on the wall.

The results of this year’s additions are satisfying, Santana-Sayles said, but the team is already thinking about what’s next. She said 2020 upgrades to House of Eternal Return are already being planned.

Even with all the hoopla about Meow Wolf’s expanding national footprint, Santana-Sayles cited the staff’s love for the flagship location and the desire to continue adding new elements to the Santa Fe experience.

“I think we want to remind people that we’re not done,” said Santana-Sayles. “We’re still developing it and we’re still creating.”

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