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‘Like nothing you’ve ever seen before’: Meow Wolf’s art mansion of fun should open early next year

You walk through the entry and stand in the front yard of a Victorian home. All is quiet, except for the chirping of crickets.

Entering the house, you see the living room where the uncle of the family often snoozes, but a prickling disquiet from a sense of absence builds when, in the dining room, you see scorch marks and a chandelier askew, caught in some corkscrew of time.

The house, and the family that lived there, have been hit by a break in the time-space continuum, with wormholes attaching to the house to transport visitors in both time and space.

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Welcome to the House of Eternal Return – or at least to the concept that is rapidly becoming concrete.

Well, actually, it’s mostly wood, metal and a specially fabricated sculpting material, sKratch.

Vince Kadlubek, CEO of Meow Wolf, shows some woodland creatures that will be featured in the House of Eternal Return, while a figure of a deep-sea diver looms in the foreground. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Vince Kadlubek, CEO of Meow Wolf, shows some woodland creatures that will be featured in the House of Eternal Return, while a figure of a deep-sea diver looms in the foreground. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“We will take people inside a sci-fi novel,” promised Vince Kadlubek, CEO of Meow Wolf, the artists’ collective behind the ambitious project.

It’s due to open in the former Silva Lanes on Rufina Circle in early 2016 – Kadlubek hesitated and then back-pedaled after first saying it would open in January. Got to have a little wiggle room. Originally projected to open in fall, then specifically set for November in summer projections, the House of Eternal Return now is looking at a winter debut.

While pieces of the project are still invisible to the general public, an imminent installation of a giant red robot by Taos artist Christian Ristow in the site’s parking lot is expected to catch a lot of eyes. It periodically will raise a daisy to its nose for a sniff.

It later will be joined by a giant tarantula designed by Ristow’s wife, artist Christina Sporrong.

If these two sound familiar, Sporrong’s TaranTula recently was part of Paseo, an installation, projection and performance art portion of the Taos Arts Festival in September, and Ristow has brought another of his works, The Fledgling, a giant mechanical bird that visitors could pedal to make its wings flap, to the AHA Festival in Santa Fe’s Railyard.

The robot and tarantula will be under a three-year lease at the Meow Wolf site, but they could be taken away if someone buys them, Kadlubek said.

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The robot is especially tempting to patron George R.R. Martin, who collects robots – including Robbie the Robot from the 1956 sci-fi film “Forbidden Planet,” he added.

The owner of the Jean Cocteau Cinema and author whose books inspired the “Game of Thrones” TV series, Martin jump-started Meow Wolf’s dream project by buying the abandoned Silva Lanes and funding the basic remodeling to hold the House of Eternal Return. Meow Wolf, though, is paying for all the work on the project contained within – so far, it has raised $1.4 million of a $2 million goal, Kadlubek said this week.

Chris Beran rewires the control for a living room entertainment center as part of the tech systems that will be installed in the House of Eternal Return. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Chris Beran rewires the control for a living room entertainment center as part of the tech systems that will be installed in the House of Eternal Return. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Get to know them

Visitors to the House will be able to browse through photo albums, journals and other miscellany accrued by any family. Meow Wolf artists have created a history and personalities for them, while actors portray the family members in visual, audio and video. As a matter of fact, Kadlubek said a feature-length movie is being contemplated to portray the events that befell this fictional family.

But visitors also will leave the house through wormholes that lead to fantastical destinations: from the chimney to a set of caves, where stalagmites and stalactites respond to your touch with different tones; from the refrigerator to a space terminal; from the dryer to a forest, which holds four treehouses and a collection of gnome-like beings that purr when you touch their heads.

The idea, Kadlubek said, is that portions of the family’s memories have exploded into these other dimensions, yielding a line-up of arcade games in one area (plus a pinball machine destined for a closet-like space that will feature light and sound that make you feel as if you are inside the game) and an aquarium blown up in dimensions to hold a human-size deep-sea diver.

About 30 rooms in an Art City will be decorated by different, individual artists. For instance, artist Nico Salazar has created various props and figures, such as a woman and a deer’s head, that are decorated in black-and-white designs that will merge into walls carrying the same designs, playing with the sense of three dimensions, according to Kadlubek.

The Light Cloud area will include an ethereal foggy atmosphere with lines of laser light that can be plucked like a harp.

In the back of the space, a Mad Max-type of Ghost Town will hold a stage for concerts, with an open floor, and surrounding balconies and steps for listeners to hang out, suited for an audience of about 300 people, he said.

Two different buildings near the former bowling alley are bursting with props being prepared for transfer to the site, a move that will take place in four to six weeks.

Walk in one direction and you see a tunnel of televisions, which will show flickering images or simply static. Head another way and pieces of mastadon bones are lined up alongside its ribs embedded in a passageway.

Lines of laser-cut paper wait to be hung moss-like in the forest branches. Circles of corrugated cardboard, covered with recycled fabric, and sKratch rocks are destined for the forest floor with whiffs of luminescence.

Matt King and other embers of Meow Wolf are busy building the House of Eternal Return in the old Sylva Lanes Bowling Alley in Santa Fe, on October 6, 2015. King is working on tree houses. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Matt King and other embers of Meow Wolf are busy building the House of Eternal Return in the old Silva Lanes Bowling Alley in Santa Fe, on October 6, 2015. King is working on tree houses. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Group effort

Meow Wolf, which has an active membership of about 120 people, has 65 people employed on this project and is about to take on 25 interns from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and the Institute for American Indian Arts who will earn college credit for their work, Kadlubek said.

Spin-off businesses potentially could evolve from devices that were developed to create the effects they are seeking in the House of Eternal Return, according to Kadlubek, such as an item to control LED lights via WiFi (the patent is pending, Kadlubek said) and a black light 10 times as bright and more affordable than many on the market.

Meow Wolf also lured the patent-holder on sKratch to Santa Fe and helped develop a company, Skratchworks, (Kadlubek is one of the partners with Jared Nicholson and Liberty Yablon) to manufacture and distribute the material. Skratchworks won a $10,000 BizMIX award this summer for local startups.

The high-tech effects the House is expected to contain couldn’t have been accomplished five or more years ago, according to Kadlubek. “We didn’t have the compacted computing power and the affordability,” he said, adding that the finished product will be very much an example of the newest in emerging arts.

The Meow Wolf site will include spaces to teach many of those arts, as well as give artists 24-hour access to technology such as laser cutters, 3-D printers and heavy-duty sewing machines, he said.

Martin recently boosted the project on his “Not a Blog,” mentioning the 1,000 limited lifetime passes it is making available for $1,000 each.

“The House of Eternal Return is going to be like nothing you’ve ever seen before …,” he wrote. “One thing for sure … it will be much more exciting than bowling.”

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