Alibi V.25 No.21 • May 26-June 1, 2016 

Pop Culture

Color Burn

Tripping on Meow Wolf

J. Grisham
What seemed like such a big, sexy idea last night has shriveled in the desert heat 20 miles outside of Santa Fe. Eat strange drugs, travel to Meow Wolf, look for another me hiding somewhere in it's florescent halls, and switch places with him. “I know Santa Fe is only an hour away, but surely visiting an alternate reality counts as a day trip,” I'd said to my editor. Sounds like the worst trailer to the worst art film ever.

But my mind isn't on art. Or rather, it's on art of a much larger scale.

I've said it so many times that I'm sick of hearing it myself, but our universe sounds more and more like sci-fi every day. And the mass acceptance of the “many-worlds interpretation” (aka “multiverse theory”) seems to help. Though some physicists scoff, many have come to grudgingly accept the probability that ours is only one universe in the infinite sea of the multiverse, because not only does it seem to explain such major problems as the incredible mismatch between the calculated mass of dark energy and what it actually turned out to be, or the issue of explaining the ungainly amount of possible combinations for the higher dimensional energy states in string theory, it also looks as though the theory might be testable now.

Multiverse theory postulates that cosmic inflation, the force that made the universe expand rapidly at its birth, never completely stops. It does, however, stop in some spots, where distortions pinch off like bubbles. These bubbles are different universes, and since inflation goes on forever, so does the creation of universes. This means that an infinite amount of universes exist, and that every possible thing that can exist does exist.

Which means not only is there a double of me somewhere out there in the multiverse, there's an infinite amount of us. And we're all driving toward what we hope is some kind of huge self-realization. I'll probably never get to observe the multiverse with my eyes or any other instrument, but I can imagine it. As hokey as it sounds, the imagination may be the only tool we can use right now to access those other places. The multiverse goes on for infinity, and infinity is way bigger than anything in my head.

J. Grisham
At the corner of Rufina and Rufina, a giant robot spider rises out of an industrial office complex to greet me. The Meow Wolf complex used to be a bowling alley. It's now a 20,000 square foot installation piece, built by an artists' collective of 135 people. The House of Eternal Return is its first permanent exhibit. I park in a spot facing an empty lot across the street. Weeds grow between glittering broken beer bottles and an abandoned shopping cart.

The ticket line stretches out of the front doors, and the wind abuses the waiting crowd, decimating hairdos and whipping skirts. I wait 10 minutes in line, get my ticket and experience the first of the day's visual ripples on the way to the bathroom. Rock 'n' Bowl aesthetics coat a long hall in glow-in-the-dark silliness. My knees are rubbery. My legs, suddenly long and twig-like.

I somehow make my way to the entrance line, avoiding eye contact. A man on a video screen says not to shove people. “Aw, man. That's the whole reason I came here,” I say, too loudly, to the stranger next to me. She does not laugh. A door opens and we are herded inside.

The entrance faces the titular house, a facsimile of a two story house where each room and crevice holds clues to a mystery surrounding a missing family and a warp in space-time. Closet doors lead to hallucinatory spaces. Rooms like repressed memories branch off of the main house and lead the explorer to a non-linear, open gallery of sorts. Participation is mandatory, since the viewer has to move through the piece itself.

J. Grisham
I've seen the before, though. I skirt past the front windows and into a side hall where artifacts of a civilization that never existed are in a museum case. The glass looks fragile and insubstantial. The walls start breathing and I almost tell a stranger before I stop myself. Ignore the terrible sound of the pulse in your ear, like a great invisible beast breathing on your neck. Push past the awful awareness creeping up the spine, over the scalp and into your eyelids.

There is a giant owl-like creature whose fur dances at the slightest breath in the next room. It stands guard by a doorway, its empty face high above me, scanning me for discrepancies. Its attention raises goosebumps on my arms and little giggles bubble in my throat.

J. Grisham
Through the doorway is the place I've been plodding toward. White walls with spaceship austerity and glowing, colored LED patterns. Portals Bermuda is the work of graphic designers Emily Montoya and Benji Geary and about 50 other people. A hallway runs around the perimeter of a futuristic lobby where a hologram walks you through the process of signing up for a vacation to parallel universes. Along the hallway are doors leading out. Next to each door is a panel with a hand print.

Montoya and Geary probably don't realize what they’ve created. A three-dimensional vision of the hub at the center of all universal being. A frame to hang my experience on. On the other side of one of those doors, I can feel the other me—the one who isn't crushed beneath the rolling anxiety of time.

J. Grisham
I open a door and step through into a glowing artificial forest. Children on a field trip run though, ducking beneath plastic mushrooms that light up and produce tones when struck. A friend of mine described this place as “garish.” Another called it “tacky.” What I see in the eye-shattering neon goofery and childish extravagance is an altar to Tawûsê Melek, the peacock angel of the Yazidis—lord of artifice and the imagination—whom the Persian mystic Ayn al-Qozat called the “black light over Allah.”

Another friend said Meow Wolf seemed “like a starter course in surrealism.” Which is probably true. When it comes to art critique, I make a great plumber. But I can't help but feel that he might have missed the very thing that excites and bows me in this place.

Behind each door is another world entirely. Lands working under completely different rules rub up against each other in a black-lit frenzy. The low-concept hipsterism of the décor may offend good taste, but it packs the punch needed to send an adult mind—so cynical and sure of itself—reeling back to childhood, when reality was malleable and every day was a portal to discovery.

It's in this child-like state of openness I glimpse my double casually slipping behind a tree with eyeballs. I follow him past rooms filled with smoke and lasers. Rooms with walls of carpet and glass. I lose him somewhere near a psychedelic bus that faces upward and find myself in a florescent town square reminiscent of Tokyo culture.

With coppery anticipation, I climb stairs to another level and begin peeking in each doorway I pass. Anxiety mounts.

In a dome-shaped room, under the accusatory glares of a multitude of animal eyes set to a soundtrack of the screaming jungle, the fear that I've been avoiding sticks its head up and looks me right in the face. I struggle my way out and into the suddenly crowded walkway. One foot in front of the other, I make my way past a chapel that thrums with colored lights, washing paintings on the wall with hard red, purple and yellow until bizarre sigils and alien alphabets stand out over the pseudo-religious images. I feel sick.

J. Grisham

I gasp and trip over imaginary cracks in the floor as I walk through the hot DayGlo trees of an underwater rave forest. Glowing fish silently watch me pass.

Around the corner is the exit. After that, the gift shop. They're little more than blurs as I push my way outside. I come out into the harsh sun and clear sky. The wind picks up violently, slashing my eyes with sand and filling my lungs. I blink and walk across the street, my knees wobbling beneath the weight of consciousness.

I step onto the abandoned lot and realize it's not the same one I saw earlier. The weeds have become perfect in their symmetry. The sight makes my chest swell with an alien pressure. In the middle of the lot, I finally find my other self, watching richly textured clouds roll across the face of the sun. I bend over and pick up one of the glittering rocks I'd mistaken earlier for broken glass. “Will you look at that?” I say to myself.