Posted by: mollymuellner | November 5, 2021

Meow-Wolf: Convergence Station, 9/17/21

Over fall break, I went to a mind-numbing psychedelic art museum that had just opened on September 17 in Denver, Colorado. It was the third permanent location opened by Meow-Wolf, an arts and entertainment company based out of Santa Fe that creates multimedia, immersive installations, designed to transport the audience to alternate dimensions of the human imagination and form a collective psyche through ‘trippy’ storytelling. 

I thought this seemed a little “out there”. But my boyfriend was thrilled by the premier and convinced myself and some friends to join. The building was intriguing; a six-story, all white complex just off the highway into Denver, similar to the Flatiron building in New York except unrelated to surrounding architecture. It’s a mysterious and surreal sight looming alone against the sky, plains, and city, and as I would discover, an equally strange place. 

 Standing in line for security, I noticed posted signs warning video surveillance. Upon entry, you agreed to the future use of footage of yourself, specifically not for security purposes. Rather, as part of an ongoing social study for the “research purposes” of the company. Entering the imposing building as part of an ongoing social experiment set the unavoidable impression of being studied, like a lab-rat at the start of a maze. 

With clean white surfaces and high ceilings, the lobby had the minimalist and sanitized appearance of a medical or scientific laboratory. The visual impression is juxtaposed by the club-like aural atmosphere, loud house music guides flashing displays on TV screens mounted around the walls. Milling among the other museum-goers, I couldn’t differentiate between those who were entering an exiting; everyone appeared a bit confused. 

With no clear indication of where to begin, we followed a group of people who appeared just as rudderless as we felt, gravitating toward one of the elevators for imminent blast-off. The upwards ascension was a departure from the last naturally lit, rational space I would navigate for the remainder of the trip. Four main floors are intended to be explored at your own pace, though it’s difficult to specifically place yourself due to the slanted, winding, and dark passageways connecting rooms. Imagery and soundscape shift to reflect the changing themes, which the narration describe as the “convergence” of four “worlds”. 

Cellular and molecular movement parallel outer space; star clusters in pools of water, rocket ships in the middle of forests with mitochondrial interiors, the continuous musical rhythm that shifts between the clicking and beeping of a machine to gurgles and beats like the sounds inside of a human body.

Every multiverse is defined by a central display occupying the most spacious room on each floor. Such as a towering neon palace, styled similarly to the iconic silhouette of Disney’s Magic Kingdom castle, but beneath the star speckled night sky of the domed ceiling rather than against the flat eternal blue on screen. 

The visual spectacle of the palace evoked a childish awe, like going to a carnival at night when you are small, and the world seems excitingly enormous and bright. 

Another central room was a busy neighborhood, apparently the sanitation district of a once prosperous, and now grimy fluorescent city. One hallway featured a long wall of washing machines mid-cycle, like an active and technicolor laundromat.The churning contents ranged from recognizable designer brand clothes, to mop-heads, marbles, cotton balls, and simply garbage, swirling barbie heads and plastic bags, tinsel or toilet-paper rolls. All subject to the cyclical and illuminated rhythm of the machine. 

My favorite room was separated from the electronic music and strobe-style lighting of others, a woodland of warm twinkling lights emanating sounds of bubbling streams and the patter of falling leaves. A forest canopy shaped the space with ribbed walls like treebark or the gills of a mushroom. Tiny amongst an interwoven ecosystem, human scale was distorted in the colossal ecosystem. Visitors wandered through slowly, discovering small walkable enclaves in holes like those of a tree through which only a chipmunk may normally fit. 

Miniature windows allow voyeuristic access to displays too tiny for active engagement. Like a broken down tin-man propped in an abandoned backyard, or the infinitized through mirrors English garden making its own small planet, or an endless  tunnel of pastel cotton balls.

Simultaneously observer and observed, you become subject to an omniscient surveillance, both fictively implied through obvious artistic mediums or more sternly through a camera lens. 

Absence of rational order reverts the participant to following lights and sounds, textures along the walls or just the motion of others. The spectacle purposefully launches a sensory overload that becomes stupefying; after a point I repeatedly found myself standing dumbly in the middle of a space, jaw-dropped, head back, and arms hanging limply at my sides. 

Chaudhury’s explanation of the phantasmagoric, which: “floods tthe senses and strives to construct patterns of wholeness, unity, and surface harmony in order to numb the body to reality”(Chaudhury, 92) seemed a fitting explanation for the zombie-like state of petrification due to overstimulation, which is the intended product of the exhibit.

Despite its aesthetic appeal, Meow-Wolf takes advantage of a shadowy side of popular culture thriving on doubt, suspicion, and paranoia. Appealing to returning visitors, it sells the chance of a higher truth and order that I don’t think any exhibit by a small collective can possibly deliver. While escape through ego deflation is appealing, I was glad to leave

For 45$ a piece, we journeyed through an information overload of consumerism, technology, waste, and surveillance, that reduced the psyche to a foreign visitor on a strange planet. I would not recommend Meow-Wolf to everyone, nor would I join the cultish crowd of avid-returners who are determined to fully map each secret of the installation. While visually fascinating, the art collective’s spectacle is more immersive entertainment than contemplative experience, and I’m curious about how their popularity and expansion has effected their dedication to art. Their first two installations are in Northern New Mexico and Southern Nevada, and I wonder if those desert locations are less corporate than this new one in Denver. 

The pleasurable and fun while also slightly heart-pounding, disorienting, and at points nauseating journey lasted almost five hours. It set an apt precedent for our class conversations about phantasmagoria, and an interesting follow up for our discussions of surveillance. I’m glad to have entered  the realm of paranoia and phantasmagoria, imagined to extremes by a small artist collective, and glad to have departed back into a world where sensory flooding hopefully never reaches such extreme heights.

Works Cited:

Zahid Chaudhary “Anaesthesis and Violence: A Colonial History of Shock” from Afterimage of Empire 


Responses

  1. I have been to the Meow Wolf location in Santa Fe and it’s one of my favorite places I’ve visited on vacation! I love your thoughts on the role of surveillance and observation in the exhibit; I definitely remember it creating a very strange feeling of both watching and being watched.

    • That’s so cool, thanks for sharing! I wonder how similar the exhibits are to one another!

  2. This is so interesting, Molly! Your first photo reminds me of the “Small World” ride at Disney’s Magic Kingdom and I think it’s strange to see something so recognizable in such a different context.


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