The name “Meow Wolf” brings to mind a sense of two disparate ideas or impulses bring brought together, like a portmanteau or mashup. The call of a domesticated animal, perhaps, that lures you in close enough for you to discover that it is actually a wild creature. And it doesn’t bark (because that would be too obvious) but this sly wolf definitely adds bite to the reality you thought you knew. Although “Meow Wolf” was drawn out of a hat, this multimedia art collective has certainly been living up to its trickster name.
Founded in 2008, Meow Wolf started out as the name of a venue, but eventually referred to the group of creative collaborators that emerged out of that space. Since then, Meow Wolf has brought many installations to life, turning ordinary spaces into whimsical, kaleidoscopic environments that invite visitors to become part of their colorful ecosystems.
In 2012, OmegaMart (which the Black Rock Arts Foundation helped to fund) stealthily made its way into Santa Fe. What may have appeared to be just the new store on the block was actually this group of artists setting up shop and masquerading as store representatives.
To get the word out, the store’s representatives sent press releases to newspapers, met with radio outlets and even ran full-page advertisements through a local culture publication. A website also fueled OmegaMart’s presence by featuring profiles of executives, testimonials and product information – all fictional, of course, but not any more absurd than the consumerist culture that OmegaMart playfully sought to critique.
Unsuspecting shoppers who decided to set foot in OmegaMart were in for a surprise, finding themselves amidst shelves stocked with unusual products, such as cereal boxes labeled as “Honey Clumps of Hmm…,” an avocado-flavored potato snack called “Shrubs,” and canisters containing “Organic Rabbit Shards.” Although some customers were delighted by this strange scenario, others responded with confusion that quickly turned into cynicism. (A few even darted away.) BRAF asked Vince Kadlubek, one of Meow Wolf’s founders, why he thought customers reacted in this manner. Kadlubek said:
“Consumerism is a therapeutic consistency in people’s lives. Messing around with it is like venturing into the comforts of some people’s homes, invading a space that they use to digest the hardships of reality. Not to mention, there is a general skittishness surrounding art in general. It’s [considered to be] ‘weird’ and ‘pointless’. Many of these people would ask us, ‘Why did you do this?’ and almost be disgusted when we’d respond ‘Just to do it’.
The shopping market is a safe zone that, when manipulated, bothers some people’s stabilization of their lives.”
Of course, OmegaMart was anything but an arbitrary act, although some consumers failed to pick up on its cunningly contrived irony. The store was strategically placed in the middle of town rather than in the arts district, so that residents of Santa Fe who did not typically attend art were more likely to stumble upon this bizarre social experiment. Behind-the-scenes, Meow Wolf collaborated with elementary school kids to create the peculiar products on display in the store.
OmegaMart was not Meow Wolf’s first gesture of extending its reach beyond frequent artgoers. In 2011, Meow Wolf’s constructed a giant interdimensional ship, complete with a back story and a crew, which left an otherwordly impression on the general population just as much as it rocked the art world. Ambitious in both scale and scope, Meow Wolf’s spectacular schemes have ranged from two participants to over a hundred:
“Our work has maintained the value of collaboration . . . while continually improving aesthetically and becoming better realized upon completion,” said Kadlubek. “We will always enjoy color, maximalism, and fun. We are growing up though, looking to produce work that is engaging from an contemporary art point of view while still being entertainment for a general population.”
Although OmegaMart is no longer open for business, Meow Wolf continues to disrupt the quotidian landscape with their flamboyantly provocative productions. Through Chimera, Meow Wolf’s educational outreach program, more Santa Fe public school students are being taught media literacy and design skills. Recently, Chimera has been working with a group of high school students to create an immersive installation from scratch at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History.
“The future of Meow Wolf will be permanent, immersive art experiences that are sustainable through door admissions,” said Kadlubek. “Think Disneyland without the rides, and with much more raw, un-polished energy. We believe that we have creations that people will want to visit for the rest of their lives.”
Meow Wolf has a show opening in Chicago with Thomas Robertello on September 6th.
This post was written by Denise Li, BRAF’s Social Media Intern.