SXSW 2018 Review: MEOW WOLF: ORIGIN STORY Is An Inspiration For Artists Everywhere

The George R. R. Martin-produced documentary reveals the successes and challenges experienced by an art collective that is creating other worlds on their own terms.

Meow Wolf. Two seemingly senseless words when placed side by side, perfectly encompass the soul of an artist collective currently taking the world by storm. Described in this documentary as “the beast” that binds artists together and an entity that is using members to “channel itself into the world”, Meow Wolf personifies artistic freedom and unity. Comprising of more than 140 salaried artists with permanent installations in two cities and growing, Meow Wolf: Origin Story reveals the unique journey of how this collective began and their anarchist approach that is shaking up the art world.

Morgan Capps’ directorial debut showcases Meow Wolf’s evolution through member interviews, archival footage from their early days and solo projects, as well as various styles of animation all set to a killer soundtrack that includes Le Tigre, Yacht, and Beach House. Her multi-layered use of visual mediums is a cinematic kaleidoscope that provides a captivating portrayal of their story while exposing the heart of this creative cohort. A hodge-podge of footage and personal, refreshingly honest accounts successfully mirror the raucous artistic style of the group. While it’s important to understand how Meow Wolf originated, it’s also worthwhile to note the cultural environment they inhabit in order to fully appreciate their innovative tactics despite multiple challenges both with each other and their community.

Sante Fe, New Mexico is a mecca for fine art and the basis for Meow Wolf’s conception, according to Chief Creative Officer, Matt King. Home to over three hundred art galleries (mostly cosmopolitan and geared towards tourists), it is the third largest art market in the country. Scattered throughout the Pueblo-style architecture and warm desert landscape, local galleries embrace artistic uniformity and are highly selective in their curations. This pompous mentality is the reason why many locals feel disenfranchised in their community, which is the subsequent fuel to the fire that ignites their punk art movement in 2008. Avoiding a conformist approach to breaking into the art scene, CEO and Co-Founder Vince Kadlubeck states he would rather be an agitator, and decides it’s time to put his efforts into shaking up the culture of the city he was born and raised in.

Meow Wolf is rooted in autonomy and one of the initial core values is creative freedom. There is no hierarchy, no one telling another what they can or cannot create. This supportive openness drives their Maximalist style, which is cohesive in its elaborate chaos. A self-proclaimed “venue for outside artists looking in”, Meow Wolf receives broader recognition from the community once the small group begins throwing local art shows and music gigs. Meetings among members emphasize radical inclusivity and maintain an open door for communication in order to stay true to their values. Their shows are “creative explosions” that culminate Maximalism through an array of mediums to allow people to engage longer by interacting with the environment and morph the traditional art world by telling stories.

As the frequency and complexity of their shows grow, so do their challenges from expanding the number of artists in their group. A struggle between order and chaos (organizational structure and adherence to anti-corporate mentality) becomes deep-seeded when their exhibitions begin turning profits. CTO Corvas K. Brinkerhoff emphasizes “order is a beautiful thing that allows chaos to exist” while others feel the newfound conversations around structure are detrimental to their creative core. Another challenge arises when gallerist, Linda Durham, discovers their Geodecodant exhibit and invites them to recreate it in her gallery. This new need for more intense budgeting and allocation of skill sets unfortunately yields some members to sever their involvement completely.

By writing an ambitious and cathartic theatrical play entitled The Moon We Live On (2010), the group reunites and welcomes a new, pivotal member, David Loughridge, who becomes vital to the positivity and continuation of Meow Wolf’s endeavors. Adjusting to their new dynamic, projects become more complex and arduous while members, themselves, simultaneously raise all of the funds for materials and space. They continue to freely come and go as the success of The Due Return (2011), an art installation comprising of a 70 ft ship filled with remnants of a fictional family’s life, blazes the trail for their long sought after permanent home.

Tragedy strikes with the heartbreaking loss of David, who unknowingly had pneumonia while simultaneously struggling to treat his depression. Artist Chris Hilson lovingly describes him as “an incredibly impassioned” and “incredibly caring person” who possessed a sense of unique empathy that could only develop out of personal suffering. Finding solace and strength in their sadness, the group rallies together in hopes to move forward. Opportunity presents itself when an abandoned bowling alley is up for sale. Going out on a whim, Vince contacts George R.R. Martin (yes, that one) ultimately purchases the space for the group’s artistic vision.

The House of Eternal Return is a permanent installation that is a dream-like experience unlike anything else. With the desire to open portals to other worlds for audiences and explore the depths of human creativity, House consists of an interactive, immersive storyline based on a family who break the time/space barrier, opening secret passageways to different realms. A psychedelic funhouse with hours of eye-candy and tactile entertainment, Meow Wolf solidifies its credibility not only in Santa Fe but across the globe.

Meow Wolf’s installations showcase the assorted talent each member possesses while collectively creating worlds for both children and adults alike. Capps, along with director Jilann Spitzmiller, reveals the spectrum of human emotion and relentless heart that allows Meow Wolf to continuously embrace alternative methods for their fantastic storytelling. Her use of cosmic imagery and ethereal design structure support both the story behind Meow Wolf’s successes and setbacks over the span of their now ten-year journey. This documentary is a singular story that spotlights the artists who are undeniably crazy diamonds that shine an electric light into the art world. Even if their art may not appeal to everyone’s style, their passionate and innovative drive to support the art community while creating something new is surely something to respect and appreciate.