It's noonish on a Friday in late April, and a handful of Meow Wolfers are toiling in relative darkness to the bright day unwinding outside the Muñoz-Waxman Gallery. Inside the Center for Contemporary Arts' cavernous exhibition space, a large digital clock blares a countdown in searing red numbers: There's less than a month left till The Due Return sets sail, so to speak.
Meow Wolf has been plotting this multimedia "inhabitable sculpture" of a ship for nearly a year, and has brought it into the realm of reality (well, some psyched-out semblance of that in which the ship has crash-landed) with funds from Kickstarter, SITE Santa Fe microgrant initiative SPREAD, the Albuquerque Community Foundation and private donors. After roughly 115 volunteers, 6,000 hours of construction and $35,000 in donations—most of which went toward lumber and tech items—we're finally approaching castoff for Meow Wolf's 73-foot-long, 25-foot-wide, 14-foot-tall, two-story immersive dreamship.
The Due Return's sheer immensity and ambition are staggering. It leaves this critic speechless—well, not exactly. But it does leave my mind stammering with shameful banalities: "It's so big!" "There's so much stuff!" "I like it!"
The project represents the culmination of a migrating Meow Wolf ethos, which has expanded to encompass such liberal doctrines of inclusivity and breadth that it's a marvel its members had the discipline to organize all its moving parts.
Meow Wolf is a loosely defined arts collective that began in 2008. From conversations with its members and familiarity with their projects over the last three years, it's clear Meow Wolf is hyperaware, even preoccupied, with how both Meow Wolf and Santa Fe are perceived in the larger art world.
A lengthy conversation with Meow Wolf member Vince Kadlubek was bookended by similar, progressively more introspective sentiments.
We want to "change how Santa Fe is perceived in the art world, in the cultural market," Kadlubek said sometime at the beginning of my first tour. As I was ready to leave, he said, "It's a moment to still be ourselves but change perceptions about how Meow Wolf does art."
After the multitudes actually see this slightly secretive project (members were insistent that I not document the ship's progress and were only halfway willing to acquiesce to this article's precastoff print date), they'll have no reservations about the collective and a shift in Santa Fe's art scene.
I mean, look at it.
One enters the lair where the ship is docked through a cave made of mesh wire, mud and straw. The idea for a ship was originally Chris Hilson's, but to limit even the project's conception to one person would be to sell short the mammoth strides, logical leaps and sheer number of people the final project encompasses.
Between all the elements and ideologies, it's all terribly indulgent, but why not? The Due Return's constructors should be proud. The final product is a bona fide playground—a dangerous one. It contains so many types of art (painting, sculpture, technology, performance, etc., etc., etc.) that the rap sheet rattles off like an advertisement for a fully loaded spaceship, making the prospect of writing about the project absolutely dizzying.
Therefore, to stave off seasickness, I've included some of The Due Return's features list-style below. To really get an idea of what's going on, go see the exhibition yourself.
It's so big! There's so much stuff! You'll like it!
• "Starfield" handmade from wax, cotton and tin foil, and 500 LED lights controlled by numerous handcrafted circuit boards, which can be operated by a phone app as well as from the steering wheel in the control room
• QR codes placed around the exhibition so iPhones can download the app and link to a 70,000-word ship narrative
• Approximately 12 performers who re-enact different parts of the ship's story, unconcerned with exhibitiongoers
• Digital archive with a novel-length genesis story/ship narrative
• Physical archive
• Live cameras
• Closed-circuit TV
• 32-channel sound installation
• Mylar instamorph color-changing trees
• Control room with tons of interactive gadgets/technology
• Individually/group-designed bunks that Kadlubek calls "more expected Meow Wolf"; Megan Henshaw, Caity Kennedy, Megan Burns and Wood Gormley Elementary students (who directed from afar), among others all created bunks, some inspired by the ship narrative
• Engine room complete with engine sounds and noise-responsive lights
• Lab furnished from Los Alamos' The Black Hole
• Cash bar
• Captain's quarters, lounge and living room area
• oh, yeah, plans to recycle most of the ship for other projects once it comes down July 10
The Due Return
Reception 5-10 pm Friday, May 13
Theatrical performances 5-10 pm Friday and Saturday, May 13 and 14, May 20 and 21, July 1 and 2, July 8 and 9
Exhibition hours 1-8 pm Wednesday and Thursday, 1-
10 pm Friday-Sunday
Through July 10
Pillars and Tongues 5 pm Sunday, May 22
$10 suggested donation (to fund future Meow Wolf
Muñoz-Waxman Gallery, Center for Contemporary Arts
1050 Old Santa Fe Trail,