This is the conceit of The Due Return, a colossal art instillation by the Santa Fe-based artist collective Meow Wolf. More than 100 artists from around the globe participated in the construction of the ship, its environment and its contents. Installed in the Center for Contemporary Arts, also in Santa Fe, the project is multimedia-based and interactive. The ship itself started its life as a wooden sailing vessel, with a look circa 1600s, but as it theoretically hopped from world to world, it accumulated new technology and aesthetics. The conceptual drawings have a steampunk whimsy. Parts of the ship will be mechanized, and its flurry of sails will reach the ceiling in CCA’s gallery.
David Loughridge, a member of Meow Wolf, says the conceptualization of the project started more than eight months ago. The installation has taken around two. Besides sculptors, builders and other visual artists, there are some wordsmiths helping to create the universe. They are imagining the journey of the ship, Loughridge says, as well as the worlds it has visited. There’s an archive of documents that support this history. The basic idea is that The Due Return has traveled along what Loughridge calls a 31-era timeline, and in each era the vessel landed in a different environment. Some of The Due Return’s previous environments are science-fictional, like the time the ship was in the belly of a giant machine. Others are real places, like Sherkin Island, off the coast of Ireland. In fact, Meow Wolf collaborator Vince Kadlubek has been communicating with a group of artists there on several aspects of the instillation. “At this point I believe there’s around 60,000 words written for the archive,” Loughridge says. “By, a fair estimate would be, about 16 different authors.”
Regular performances, based on the archives, will also happen on the ship and in its surroundings. Songs, music, monologues, dance and other experimental pieces will seem to occur spontaneously. “It’s a nice way of making the show feel alive,” Loughridge says. The performances will happen during the first and last two weekends of the show’s run. Meow Wolf is considering whether to work in performances at other times. The collective is most keen on creating a different experience for patrons everyday. Cellphone apps have even been created for The Due Return, which will allow people to receive mobile updates, audio tour information and QR codes to learn extra details about items onboard.
Loughridge stresses that The Due Return is kid-friendly. In fact, who better to fearlessly interact with everything than children? He thinks they might be a good example to adult visitors who might be more hesitant. “Nothing about this is hands-off,” says Loughridge.