by Sukanya GargOct 22, 2019
A work of art has a purpose to express thoughts and stories on behalf of its creator. In doing so, the viewer gets to engage through a distinct and alternative perspective. Now imagine, a work of art that you can enter into, literally! Recognised in the 2020 list of Fast Company for World’s Most Innovative Companies, Meow Wolf is a Santa Fe-based art collective that creates immersive and interactive experiences to transport audiences of all ages into fantastic realms of story and exploration. Co-founded by Matt King, who leads the Creative for Meow Wolf, the organisation opened in 2016 with now the award-winning House of Eternal Return. Located at Santa Fe USA, the work allows for discovering a multidimensional mystery house with secret passages, portals of magical worlds, and surrealist, often maximalist exhibits. It has received over two million visitors.
King himself has a background as an abstract expressionist painter. He is a multi-instrumentalist, an avid canoer, and a summer camp veteran who has taught outdoor education to 5th graders in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I interview him on the first work created by Meow Wolf, the House of Eternal Return, and get perspective of Corinne Loperfido, artist of the newest work titled, Trash Temple.
Rahul Kumar (RK): Why, in your opinion, a conventional work of art (like a painting on wall) needs context and possibly art education to interpret, while an immersive installation has no such barriers? Any creative work, on wall, on pedestal, on screen, or for that matter on a plate is providing an experience. It is ‘consumed’ basis the degree of engagement and past experiences.
Matt King (MK): Conventional art is displayed in a setting that is designed to focus all your attention on the singular, to highlight a particular work of art. This is a subjective experience where there is you and there is art. You are separate from the art. Without knowing the history of boundary pushing for us to collectively understand what can be viewed as art, then there is no context to understand why something like Dan Flavin’s single 4’ fluorescent tube on a wall is important and should be validated and has allowed us the freedom of mind to create the types of things we do in our work. When you are fully immersed into an installation you stop being a passive observer and you become an active participant. There is not the disconnect of me over here and art over there. You are truly experiencing the art, living inside of it.
RK: You say the creative professionals need to create experience of alternate realities for people. Wouldn’t any new invention create a radically different experience and therefore an alternate reality? For instance, an aeroplane or a mobile phone, when first used provided for something completely outwardly?
MK: Yes, we constantly introduce new technologies and ideas into the world that alters what we knew it to be. We are in a perpetual state of altering our reality. What we mean is, it is our job to create experiences that will break down the walls of conventional thinking around what our relationship is to ourselves, each other, and the world we inhabit. It is our job as artists to create space that will change the paradigm of what we collectively believe is possible and empower in each individual the understanding that the imagination and the belief in the ability to manifest and co-create the world around us is a tangible, reachable reality.
RK: The idea of ‘recognisable’ is a function of having seen (or felt) it in past. If that is true, then creating immersive installation and spaces remain a wonderment only till they are seen for the first time. And then it becomes as predictable as anything else. How does it serve the purpose of continued engagement and experience?
MK: It is true, wonder will fade when an experience is no longer exciting and you are not engaged. When the mystery is gone and nothing unexpected is left. It is the unexpected that is the foundation of wonder. What we are trying to do through immersive experience is reawaken the mystery of life, to make you question reality, to fulfil the desire of the unexpected. We want to inspire a wonder that you will take out into the world. The magic does not stop when you walk out of the door. We are creating experiences that will alter the way you perceive and engage with the world. The installation is not the only art. The transformation of our collective experience is intertwined with what we are building. We will continue to offer the unexpected.
RK: Is the future of conventional art forms shrinking? Will there still be value ascribed to the ‘handmade’? Based on the trends, what would be your prediction?
MK: Art is a fundamental part of the human experience and we can trace it back to 7,00,000 years. What is conventional has always been what is at hand. It was the 13th century when we started using oil paint, and less than 200 years ago that we took our first photograph, and it was the 1970s before consumer computers were available. All of these have helped in the pursuit of artistic expression. Thousand years ago, conventional would be a narrow window of product and process. It is anyone’s guess what the future holds when thinking about what technology will enable us to do, but based on our history we can confidently say that people will utilise every tool possible to artistically express the human condition and conventionality will evolve with us. The means to make art will ever expand, but we will always appreciate the fundamental human aspect of handmade.
RK: Please walk us through the making of the House of Eternal Return.
MK: How do you describe a life altering metaphysical experience in few words? I could write a book on what it was like to live through the making of The House! Especially because I cannot talk about the House and remove the cumulative years of experience that was the creation and development of Meow Wolf as an entity, philosophy, and ethos. So, let me try to share an abstract of what this experience was like. The making of House of Eternal Return was an awakening. To open my eyes inside of a dream, every moment connecting deeper alternative realities and dimensions until one day all understanding of what is real was subverted and I was left with an awareness that truly anything is possible if you let go and fully allow the magic of the universe to take the helm.
RK: And lastly, what led to the creation of Trash Temple? Is the intent experiential or layered with the idea of ecology?
Corinne Loperfido: The intention with Trash Temple was to create a space where people could face the truth about our relationship to ‘trash’ and consumption, while also elevating these objects that would have otherwise all then in the landfill. By transforming ‘garbage’ into a temple, it asks the question ‘what is trash’ and hopefully encourages people to re-evaluate the way they participate in this broken system.