Updated December 23, 2019 - 9:53 am
The family that used to live in this Victorian home in Santa Fe is missing.
You’re welcome to enter their home, pore over the dozens of letters the youngest daughter wrote, rifle through the kitchen cabinets and even crawl head-first into the washing machine — and emerge somewhere in the multiverse.
Beyond the tidy confines of the house is another world, or arguably many worlds, composed of towering trees, glowing mastodon bones, musical lasers and mysterious portals.
New Mexico art collective Meow Wolf created the House of Eternal Return in 2016. In the spring, the group will open an original immersive experience in Las Vegas. While few details are known about Meow Wolf’s second permanent exhibition, a visit to Santa Fe offers an idea as to what Las Vegas locals can begin to expect when it opens at Area15 next year.
House of Eternal Return
Guests who visit The House of Eternal Return are welcome to explore it like a funhouse. But those who are drawn to the mystery are invited to try and figure out what exactly happened to the Selig family — and why their home was subsequently overrun by figures in white lab coats.
That means watching the videos playing on the family’s television, digging through the brochures and receipt slips found in the uncle’s briefcase, reading the newspaper delivered on the date of the family’s disappearance and exploring the bookcases, computers, closets and nightstands of each family member’s bedroom.
Without giving too much away, something happened in the home that dissolved the nature of space and time. And rushing headlong into the refrigerator, fireplace or the hidden nook under the staircase will lead curious visitors into a portal to another dimension.
After crossing the threshold from the family home into the multiverse, visitors will find 20,000 square feet of vibrant, colorful, fantastical science fiction to explore.
Depending on which portal is accessed, one may land in a futuristic waiting room lined with handprint-activated doors, or a squishy-floored area beneath bioluminescent trees, or maybe a small, dark room inexplicably constructed out of laundry.
What comes next is an art experience where visitors are invited to not only walk, climb and crawl, but to touch, play and rattle.
Within the space is the glowing skeleton of a mastodon, whose ribs can be played like a xylophone, a neon seascape, a dome made of eyeballs, a trippy monochromatic kitchen and a schoolbus positioned end-over-end on its rear doors, whose controls create psychedelic images on the windshield.
Visitors can move from one experience to another by climbing trees, wandering into dark hallways and — in one instance — stepping into an ice machine.
The experience possesses a charming do-it-yourself quality, where nothing is produced to the point where you can’t stop to think about how someone came up with it all.
While visitors to Santa Fe can expect to spend upward of half a day in the 20,000-square-foot space, Meow Wolf in Las Vegas will cover 50,000 square feet.
The aesthetic will feature Meow Wolf’s “gritty” style, co-founder Corvas Brinkerhoff II says. And the estimated budget — a significant increase over the $3 million invested in Santa Fe — will contribute to the exhibit’s video, digital and multichannel sound system.
The narrative elements of the Las Vegas experience will focus not on the Selig family, but on a 21st century world.
“It’s very topical,” says the collective’s vice president of marketing, Didi Bethurum. “It will speak to the times of today.”
Visitors will wear an RFID bracelet that tracks their movements and syncs with a mobile app that helps them navigate and uncover the narrative.
“In Meow Wolf Las Vegas, our guests will experience an unprecedented storytelling experience where art, architecture, RFID tags and mobile phones will combine with thousands of pieces of content, including Hollywood-quality video production, to tell epic storylines and create the world’s first explorable story of its class,” Brinkerhoff says.
He says visitors can expect to find massive musical instruments, conversational robots and meandering, interactive storylines where your body is the avatar, creating a real-life free-roaming video game.
Like other components in Area15, the experience will utilize projection mapping and 3D sound systems.
Local artists, many of whom participated when Meow Wolf took over the Art Motel at the 2017 Life is Beautiful festival, are collaborating with the Santa Fe team.
Among them, artist Eric Vozzola is creating the otherworldly mural that will cover Area15’s west-facing facade.
“Meow Wolf and I were working on the design for over a year,” Vozzola says. “It’s like a surrealist landscape. Meow Wolf is all about portals and going from one scene to the next. With that in mind, the design is like looking through a window into another world.”
Inside Area15, the entrance to Meow Wolf will feel like a portal, with a massive horseshoe-shaped opening that separates the experience from the venue’s other experiential and retail offerings.
“You’ll just have to see for yourself,” Brinkerhoff says. “We could not be more excited to share this experience with the community of Las Vegas.”