Meow Wolf, the artspace with a name pulled from a hat, is out to prove that one person's trash art is another person's near-dark future.
The perhaps apocryphal story about William Gibson, legendary godfather of cyberpunk, is that he wrote his novel, Neuromancer, on a manual typewriter, simply extrapolating the media and madness he witnessed into a fantasy future in which hackers navigate virtual realities, corporations suck the justice from the world, voodoo gods roam the Internet and drugs come in strange little patches that stick on the skin. In other words, from his quasi-sheltered, conventional hideaway somewhere in Canada, Gibson created a dark projection of the future that looks, today, a lot like normal life, depending on your stance regarding voodoo.
Gibson and his compatriot and peer, Bruce Sterling, went on to define the key aesthetics of an analog retro-future, where mechanical devices supplant digital likelihoods and Jules Verne is more important than Bill Gates. Call it cyberpunk, call it steampunk-The New York Times style section has recently tried to co-opt whatever it is-but, like modernism or fluxus, it remains real in the hands of the people who just do it.
Enter Meow Wolf. Or, this week, enter Biome Neuro Norb, a time-,
labor-, material- and imagination-intensive project that has emerged, like a vagabond laboratory from a century away, to churn out strange noises, bizarre lights, brazen fictions and Mylar-lots of Mylar-on Second Street.
A central control panel, below a spinning helix, contains switches, whirligigs, whosiwhatsits and geegaws that pump invisible ebbs of electrojuice to lights, audio tracks and mysterious, unnerving elements scattered throughout the organized, recycled chaos. The core of the exhibition space is full of tubes and tangles, upon which may await video feeds, illustrations, death, illumination-it's hard to say.
Several sub-spaces and alternate realities appear and disappear, depending on your balance, your tolerance for absinthe and whether you are wearing normal 3-D glasses or the special 3-D glasses with rainbow biophysimetric optoid enhancement. In one chamber or wing of the starship, or rift in the continuum, you are likely to find live specimens, fractal cancers, humanoid experimentation.
In another space, quiet journals and documents describe Pan-Asian organic cyber sprawl and the proper care and feeding of norbidian growth goggles. There are video discourses that range from the stop motion disgorging of anal grubs to the idiocy of alien hip-hop. Be sure you wear the proper wireless evomechanic headset. There is a jungle, itself surrounded by a larger jungle, which is trapped within an expanse of jungle. There is a shiny and terrible squid, the size of four grown men and, if it moves, it moves fast.
Some, none or most of these things may be true. What is fact is that Biome Neuro Norb sets a defining ethos and aesthetic for the still larval Meow Wolf space. The space is about event and environment. It is refreshingly collaborative, with some 16 people weighing in or tagging out or mind-melding, or whatever happens within the nexus of the Neuro Norb. There's little point in attempting to ascertain who's done what or why. It would be like picking out the specific artist or programmer responsible for one section of code or a particular graphic element in a massive online environment.
In fact, the exhibition is less concerned with being art and more like being dropped into a video game, in which a certain set of puzzles must be solved and challenges overcome before time runs out and a rogue virus unleashes a zombie disease upon the unsuspecting populace that is going about their dull business thousands of feet above the underground research facility.
The depth of this silly but seductive illusion is reminiscent of Hello Meth Lab in the Sun, a recent installation at Ballroom Marfa by Jonah Freeman, Justin Lowe and Alexandre Singh. An intensely constructed walk through countercultures, addiction and delirium, the Texas exhibition was easy to embrace for its experientiality, for the fact that its illusion was successful by virtue of pure, bald fakery. Biome likewise thrives through the casual bombast of the unconvincingly plausible. A less successful experiment in ego accompanies promotional materials that proclaim the unique excellence of the show and Meow Wolf's antidote to the "boring and elite" Santa Fe art scene. Such declarations are themselves boring and elite and therefore ridiculous, though not to be dwelled upon; the hype is more PT Barnum than anything else and the earnestness of the collaborators is fair compensation.
Meow Wolf's infusion comes at an important time in the ever-churning Santa Fe cycle: AD Collective will be disappearing soon as its members drift and dissipate, High Mayhem is in its own flux (see page 24) and venues are rare, expensive and ridiculously regulated. But Meow Wolf's shrine to alternate realities, voodoo technology and analog aesthetic amperage is here for now…at least until it needs to be renorb somewhere else.