I could easily wish the crowds away, but that would be foolish. They are a big part of the experience here at Meow Wolf. Mere moments after entering the fun house, our party is already separated into at least 3 separate groups. Moni is nearby, but I’m not sure where. Her sister and I are together. She is nervous and worried the place will be scary. I’m not entirely re-assuring. We catch a glimpse of her two kids. They rush on by as their mother tries to call them back.
It’s no use going after them. Did they go up into the tree house, or over to the musical mastodon? Perhaps into the fish-tank? We’ll find them eventually, but not by looking. No matter. One is old enough. The other has been here before. They will take care of each other. So, we let them have their fun.
I’m recovering from a bad flu, so I tire easily. Luckily, there are places to sit and watch the people. This is my second time at Meow Wolf, so I am happy to take my time; happier still to rest when I can. A woman walks by urging her child to stay nearby. A few minutes later she walks by again, alone.
“Baby, where are you?”
I get up to help her look for the child and instead find myself helping a couple women trying to connect a completely different child with his parents. They are on it; I’m just trying to see if I can help, but it’s difficult. You’re never more than one room away from getting completely lost in this place. Give yourself time and you’ll find your way back to the main entrance. But how to search more than one room without losing these two and their momentary ward?
A solution takes the form of a stumbling old man in mad scientist garb. I’ve seen him before. He gets lost in corners and regularly stands motionless for odd periods of time. Soon after meeting the women, our shambling scientist becomes a competent staff member with an intercom and a clear set of procedures. Unfortunately, the first step (getting the kid’s name and that of his parents) doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. The kid is just too disoriented to answer even these questions. Another child is screaming in my ear. It’s disconcerting, but this child is already in her own mother’s arms, so that’s probably a good sign. Still those are blood-curdling screams for such a little girl. What has her so scared?
“I don’t want to leave!”
Ah, …got it!
The girl keeps screaming that she doesn’t want to leave. She screams this as though her life depended on it. Nearby, the once-shambling scientist calls three names into his head set. He is well on his way to solving the problem. I wander off to find something new. I’m told there have been some changes to a few rooms, and the people scrambling about me add a whole other layer of new things to see.
A young woman opens up a closet, then stands in awe as people behind wait for the moment to pass. Others charge into rooms and devour them. An elderly woman has trouble navigating a narrow staircase. The crowds wait patiently. There is plenty to see. Just about every where you look, there is something odd to see, something weird to wonder about. Kids open the drawers and study their contents. A middle aged man yanks out a drawer a little too far and spends the next few minutes putting its spilled contents back. Some tap on shiny mushrooms, hoping to know what sound they will make. You can play a piano, an odd piano, or even a lazer-lyre.
I found myself in the entrance to the place, a large area resembling a classic suburban home. It is two stories tall, filled with all the usual features of a middle-class home; a kitchen, a living room, a study, several bedrooms, a nice bathroom, and so on. There are also a few things you don’t find in most middle class homes. A few inter-dimensional portholes, lots of odd scenes. You can find the beginnings of a narrative here in this home. Notes and booklets scattered throughout the rooms allude to scientific experiments gone wrong, perhaps a bit of a cult gone wronger.
I sit here and watch the crowd. Within minutes a little girl asks if she can sit on my lap. She is adorable, but her mother isn’t having any of it. That’s understandable, of course, but I have to wonder. I’m no Santa Clause. Is there something about this place that softens my resting-bastard-face? The next little girl seems to want my attention to. Her parents shuffle the family by without any event.
Perhaps they just want to sit down?
I free up the chair.
Standing on a narrow bridge a woman turns towards me saying; “that’s just the weirdest thing I…” It’s at that point, she realizes I’m not the person she thought she was talking to. It’s understandable. At one point, I mistake a woman for a manikin. In my defense, she wasn’t moving. I find another mad scientist repairing a refrigerator door. That may seem an odd job for a scientist, but in his defense, not every fridge serves as a porthole into another dimension. The condiment rack on the door of this porthole is loose, and there is no telling what that could mean!
I bump into Moni and her family a couple times. All are happy. The kids are positively glowing.
Just like some of the exhibits.
Other things, you may hear in this place?
“This is the most ridiculous thing.”
“Don’t go in there!”
“Oh, oh, oh!”
“that’s how we came in”
“we came in through the fireplace?”
“How do you suppose that kid got stuck in the toilet?”
“What’s the big deal about this place? …Oh, I see.”
Meow Wolf is the brain-child of George R.R. Martin. Yes that George R.R. Martin! It’s an artist collective and a non-profit located on the south-side of Santa Fe, New Mexico. What they’ve created here could be described as a fun house, but that doesn’t even begin to do the place justice. Suffice to say that a lot of very creative people have invested a lot of brilliant thought into this project, and the results are spectacular. I reckon it can be a little stressful for the parents, but they will live through the experience, and so will their kids (who will no doubt keep the memories well into their own grey years). For the rest of us, I expect the key to this experience is opening ourselves to its disorienting qualities. You may think for a moment that you are beginning to figure something out, or that you know what’s around the corner to the left, but don’t be surprised if you are wrong. No matter! If you can make sense of this place, you are probably doing it wrong.
Thanks to Moni and her family who have contributed pics and suggestions. As usual, you may click to embiggen.