EK Interview: Meow Wolf

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 Meow Wolf is a group of artists from Santa Fe, brought together by a shared purpose and passion for art and music.  They have created a number of fantastic, whimsical pieces of art with a myriad of topics and styles.  They will be at Select Art Fair for Art Basel this year in Miami.  Hear more about how awesome their organization is in their interview:

Tell us about Meow Wolf, how did it form?  Who are the members?  What is your purpose?

Meow Wolf formed in 2008 when a group of 20-something artists committed to paying rent on a space in Santa Fe, NM.  Santa Fe is known as an art market, but young artists have often felt alienated from Santa Fe’s persona.  Meow Wolf was a response to that alienation, and we vowed to create artwork that would stand in stark contrast with the rest of the Santa Fe contemporary scene.

Meow Wolf has operated as an open-door collective that welcomes the participation from anybody who chooses to devote their energy.  We do not have a jury process, application process of any sort.  People either show up and do stuff, or they don’t, and the filtering then happens naturally.  We began as 12 people, but have worked with over 300 in the past 5 years, not including students.

Our purpose is to create collaborative, multi-media, immersive installation.  We believe that a maximalist aesthetic is far more interesting, fun, and accessible, and thus we like to fill every inch of our project’s space with color, texture, sound, video, etc.  The contemporary art world is exclusive, small, and does not speak to younger generations or the general public.  We take much pride in knowing that young adults and non-traditional art goers are a large aspect of our fanbase.

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How did Biome Neuro Norb go?  What unexpected problems did you encounter for your first group installation?  How was it received?  How long did it take to set up?  Where did the idea come from?  The theme is somewhat dark, predicated on the Earth turning to a trash heap, do you see this as a realistic future?  What do you think, if anything, we can do to avert such a fate?

Biome Neuro Norb was a total experiment.  This was our first project together as a group, and some of the artists didn’t even know each other on a personal level.  We did not have funds for this show, and we were too young and inexperienced to know how to raise funds.  So we dumpster dived.  We went to Salvation army and took whatever they would give us – colors, shapes, textures – and we started covering the space.  We wanted audiences to step into Biome and forget they were inside a building.  We rounded corners with large, explorable paper mache caves and embedded Christmas lights behind different materials to create a universal, ambient glow.  We worked on the show for 6 weeks, and it was received with overwhelming positivity.  The established art community embraced what we created, and helped spread the word about our organization.

The Biome concept began as a very general idea — to create a science-fiction show. We started realizing that the materials we were using was literal trash, from dumpsters.  Rather than hiding this, we embraced it, and I started to develop a narrative around the show.  We realized that immersive installation created a spectacular opportunity for storytelling, so I started walking around the exhibit about a week before opening and developed a loose narrative about Earthlings traveling to a far-off planet and using advanced technology to terraform the atmosphere with Earth’s trash.  Flowers grown from Doritos bags, etc.

I do not actually see this as a realistic future for Earth, I believe we as humans have a phenomenal ability to react with absurd ambition when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges.

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Do you consider yourselves installation artists?  What is it like working collaboratively on an installation?  Unlike a single piece, an installation is a composite, where each can work on a piece of there own, and in a very Gestalt sense, the end result is an aggregate greater than each of the disparate pieces.  Is this how you work?  What degree of collaboration exists within each of your installations?

We are absolutely installation artists.  We are site-specific, immersive, installation artists.  A core group of 12 artists have been working together now for over 5 years, so the process is much different today than when we started.  We now operate as a single entity, instantly being able to riff off each other’s ideas and aesthetics.  It is instantaneous.  We almost don’t even have to design things because once an idea is shared we all see the same vision.  We have also learned who plays what roles, and though this can be quite frustrating at times (as artists, nobody likes to be strictly defined) it has helped us streamline the process of creating a show.

Together, we create work that is rarely achievable by a single person.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, per se.  The way we achieve this is by creating a unified structure (both conceptually in theme and physically in the space) and have contributing artists work within that framework.  We watch and listen as each artist influences the shows true becoming, and we react to it.  The final few days of installation results in a ‘blending’ process that eliminates the sense of compartmentalization and brings the show together as one.

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What was the inspiration for the Wonderful Walkabout?  The photographs for the walkabout seem edited, what effect are you using?  What are the pieces for the Walkabout?  What are they made of?

A beautiful park in Santa Fe called The Railyard Park was accepting installation ideas.  We really thought the park could use some color and fantasy. The inspiration being to youngify and radicalize stodgy elements of Santa Fe, which has personally always been my inspiration.  There were two main components of WW: The Glow Forest and The Globes.  The Glow Forest is simply large branches painted solid colors with florescent paint.  These branches collectively create a forest of brightly-colored lines that end up glowing at night when lit with blacklight.  The Globes were created by plastering beach balls, letting the plaster sit and dry, then popping the beach balls and revealing hollow nests.  These nests were then filled solar-powered dioramas.

The photos for WW are not edited.

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Can you tell us about Chimera?  What is the goal of your education program?  Besides the Omega Mart what other projects have you carried out?  How did the Omega Mart go over?  Where was it?  What were the ages of the kids involved?  What was it like working with kids? What did you learn about your own art, or yourselves that you could apply to your own art in the future?  Will you be doing anything else like it in the future?

CHIMERA was created to teach collaborative methods to young students through art making.  We worked with 1500 students over a two-year period.  OmegaMart was the main project that resulted from CHIMERA.  Elementary-age students worked in teams to design fake products that could be found in a fake grocery store.  We worked with kids to also design commercials and radio ads for their products.  Those products that the kids designed were then produced by Meow Wolf artists and installed into our OmegaMart installation. OmegaMart was a fake grocery store that opened in a strip mall in the middle of Santa Fe, with shelves filled with fake product.  In all we had 500 different products that were actually purchasable.  Art goers became customers and completed the work by taking baskets and carts around the space to ‘shop’.  Performance artists acted as the checkout-clerks, and the entire space became a sustained surreality.  The project was a huge success, and was a satellite piece to SITE Santa Fe’s ‘More Real: Art in the Age of Truthiness’ exhibit in 2012.

Working with kids was fantastic.  We connected with them, they are peers.  Even at age 6, their concepts are equivalent.  The execution of the concepts is where there is a difference, but on a base level they were our peers.  It was amazing to be around such connection.

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What is the Congress of Collectives?  Where does most of the material you use in your work come from?  Is it ‘found’?  Is it donated?  What is it like working with reused materials?  There’s more history to the piece than you could even know, there are stories that the components know that you cannot.  Do you feel there’s any difference in your end product than that of an artist who bought charcoal and paper?  Or acrylic and brushes? 

Congress of Collectives was a conference in NYC in 2011 that we were invited to.

Much of our material is found and salvaged form a variety of sources.  But, we definitely are all about buying materials fresh these days.  We know we need good material to create worlds that are vibrant and closely-related to our vision.  As well, we need good materials for durability and efficiency.  If you look at ‘The Due Return’, our most successful project by far, you will see that we built an entire ship out of fresh wood. On the technical side, as well, it is important to own a solid inventory.  So I guess what I am saying is, we have evolved to now depend largely on purchased materials in order to create quality experiences.

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What are you doing at Select Fair?  Have you been to Basel before?

A couple members of Meow Wolf have been to Basel.  Matt King and Caity Kennedy show some sculptural work in 2012.  This year, MeowWolf will be hanging a series of illuminated sculptures and wall pieces at Select Fair.  Since the space is a hotel, we are unable to create a fully-immersive installation, so we are instead leaning on large, floating lanterns to influence the space.  We will bring our maximalist mentality into these pieces as they interact with video and dynamic lighting to create more than just fixtures.  We expect 6 of our members to come to Miami for the install.

We would love the opportunity to take an entire space and create a fully-immersive installation for future Basel’s.  Our most exciting work is produced when we have 100% control of a space.  Hopefully this year’s work will be a nice hint of things to come.

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