A Voyage to Another World

Santafe.com - August 18, 2011

"The installation will shut its doors for the last time this Sunday...If you’ve yet to experience this incredible piece you owe it to yourself to go..."

Imagine a ship. A Spanish Galleon; her mast spanning vast into the great unknown. Imagine she sets sail not on the seas but through the cosmos, to lands strange and unknown. Her keel marooned on some far off shore, her cabins seemingly abandoned. The sounds of otherworldly creatures echo in nearby caves and the very nature of the world feels strange. The decks feel lived in yet deserted; each bunk filled with nicknacks, each book dirtied and dogeared. It is a journeyman, lost to man and found by you.

The picture I paint is the newest fully interactive installation by local arts group Meow Wolf. Taking its name from the installations centerpiece The PCA Due Return, from the moment you step into the warehouse you are transported to another world. An immensely immersive landscape opens before you. To your right you see caves glowing with radiant plants and luminescent bugs. Large jellyfish like trees shade the room from the glowing starlight above.
Even the air carries a thick musty allure that is unique to the environment. All the while you’re looking around, an elephant sits in the room. Your attention to this captivating other world is nagged by the ever growing curiosity to the installations star attraction. Eventually to that curiosity you will succumb. In the center, the broken keel of the maritime wonder; The Due Return.

From the ground level entrance you come into the ships science facility. Seemingly from the island of Doctor Moreau; strange contraptions and devices buzz and hum as the twisted experiments of some long gone mad scientist surround you. On shelves above you; dozen of vials and jars await your investigation and the kindly Doctor Fish, A living goldfish that talks to you from his bowl. Down the deck, crew quarters line the sides. Each is filled with personal nicknacks, journals, photos, and a genuine feeling of personality from those who once lived inside. Yet without its crew, the ship still retains and eerie and abandoned quality.

At the bow is a library containing books, artifacts from the ship’s travels, an archived database, and even a full botanical garden brimming with life. Top side you find the bridge. A space-age nerve center for the ship, the controls of which directly effect the environment around. At the stern, a captain’s quarters. In both design and amenity it seems right in place with that of a old english frigate. Like the quarters below it’s filled with personal curios and curiosities waiting to be discovered.

A walk across the open deck will reveal a victorian inspired sitting parlor complete with an upright piano that like everything else on the ship, changes as you use it. The world created by The Due Return is like none you’ll ever see. The key word to this piece is detail. Extraordinary and elaborate detail. Every inch of the vessel and her world have been meticulously designed and planned for. For those willing to look for them, the number of small details that could be discovered are nearly endless. A year in the making its not hard to see the care that went into its creation. Meow Wolf has managed to not just create a ship in a bottle, but build an engrossing world around it too.

Were the shocking attention to detail not enough, there is a genuinely interesting plot to captivate those clever enough to look. Secret QR codes are hidden around every corner and unfold the melancholy tale of The Due Return. Crew members details are scattered all around the ship. With a bit of detective work you see that the world of The Due Return and of those who inhabited it, lived quite fascinating lives. Even the seemingly bizarre equipment that liters the ship has its own point and purpose that can be found with enough ingenuity.

This treasure hunt is aided by the installations free smart phone app, The Elixir. The Elixir is a truly amazing piece of interactive art. Not only does it contain a QR reader for those interested in uncovering the installations backstory and a complete copy of the ships archive but the app actually allows you to change the environment around the ship. How? Well that I’m not going to spoil. You’ll just have to download it and try for yourself. That being said, this app is one of the most impressive examples of personal interactivity the installation has to offer. While the nature of The Due Return immerses you into its world, The Elixir is a part of the world you bring in with you. Literally a piece of the art in your pocket. It’s a beautiful addition, well executed in its design, and something i hope to see more of in the future.

I can’t quite convey how remarkable this installation is, or what Meow Wolf has accomplished with it. This is not some unappreciable piece of high art or some fluffy piece of entertainment. It’s not something built to be accessible to the masses yet i can think of no one who would not be able to appreciate it on a deep level. It makes no statement yet comments intelligently on society and humanism. It is both performance piece and insight into another world. It is a perfect piece of art. Not because it is without flaw but because it was made with flawless intent.

The Due Return has enjoyed a well deserved extension but now is coming to a close. The installation will shut its doors for the last time this Sunday, the 21st, at ten. If you’ve yet to experience this incredible piece you owe it to yourself to go. It will be open every night till Sunday and I say we give the Due Return a due sendoff.

The Due Return is located at the Center for Contemporary Arts (the CCA) at 1050 Old Pecos Trail. A one time donation of $10 is requested, but not required, at the door. The Installations official site and a link to download The Elixir can be found below. This is a once in a lifetime art piece. Don’t miss your voyage.

The Due Return
The Elixir