Gallery Preview: Massive Interactive Installation The Due Return At Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf

Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf Presents A Massive Interactive Installation

Summer Olsson
4 min read
Your Ship Has Come In
Skeleton of The Due Return (Rob Dewalt)
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The Due Return, an intergalactic ship 75 feet long and 25 feet across at its widest point, has landed in an alien environment. While traveling through time and space for two centuries, the vessel and its crew collected artifacts, images and stories from many universes. Ten rooms house the haul of 200 years of exploration. The ship has been stationed in TD-31, the 31 st dimensional space, for several years now, and its occupants have learned how to live in the foreign land. Glowing trees, pulsating creatures and ancient cave dwellings are some of the mysteries of this world.

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.

Meow Wolf, formed in 2008, is a group of multifaceted artists without an official mission statement. One common goal, it seems, is to try to recycle and reuse everything. The Meow Wolf website proclaims that all the materials they ever need are generally provided by the Santa Fe community. The group has no leader or hierarchy. In general, whoever wants to work on projects does; somehow spectacular, weird and hyper-detailed art emerges.

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.”

Perusing these archives alone could take a whole day. As patrons explore the 2,500 square feet of the ship’s rooms, they’ll encounter lots of others ways to engage as well. Areas includes sleeping quarters, a control room, captain’s quarters and a laboratory. The control room, for example, will feature knobs, buttons and joysticks with which visitors can manipulate lighting instruments and pieces of the ship, as well as manage video footage. In the bunks, guests can examine personal effects. “Certain people will gravitate toward the areas that feel most fun to them,” Loughridge says.

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.

The Due Return

Runs May 13 through July 10

1 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays

1 to 10 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays

Center for Contemporary Arts, Munoz Waxman Gallery

1050 Old Pecos Trail, Santa Fe

Free, (505) 982-1338

To see sketches, paintings and photos from the construction of The Due Return, watch video clips of performances, or for other information about the project, visit

Your Ship Has Come In

Concept art for the environment

Your Ship Has Come In

Caity Kennedy’s sketch of the ship

Your Ship Has Come In

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