Meow Wolf, a Santa Fe-based art collective, explores the persistence of collective memory in their deeply introspective exhibit, Moving Still, at the Front in New Orleans. A twelve-person-core collective of artists, Meow Wolf has developed a following around their sensorial and immersive installations that have previously taken the form of a 75-foot ship from the future, The Due Return (2011), built in the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, and a misshapen world of glittery cities, Glitteropolis (2011–12), at NMSU in Las Cruces. Moving Still, Meow Wolf’s first exhibit in New Orleans, was created by collective members Golda Blaise, Corvas K. Brinkerhoff II, Vince Kadlubek, Leo Brown, Mat Crimmins, Justin Crowe, and Jake Snyder. It is a reflection on the group’s mutual history and how the memories of their time together can persist.
In a collective, there is an essential dissolving of the individual in order to be part of the shared experience. One of the benefits of this dissolution is the creation of a group culture—and a group memory. Meow Wolf explores their history in the first two rooms of the Front. A timeline reveals important moments in the collective’s past, and short texts are interconnected by dark gray lines. For example, there is the creation story of Meow Wolf: “Birthed from previous social and creative incarnation (Meg’s house, Warehouse 21, The Quadraplex) Meow Wolf comes into being on the night of February 1st, 2008. 10 people attended the first meeting, discussed splitting the cost of the space on 2nd Street, and chose the name ‘Meow Wolf’ by pulling it randomly out of a hat.” While these texts are interesting—especially when Meow Wolf explores the fractures and failures of working in a group context—at times the two rooms become overly nostalgic and didactic. Videos projected onto the wall show past installations, and mementos from different members are placed throughout the room. The timeline ends with a short text stating that Nucleotide (2013) was the last group installation with David Loughridge, a member who died tragically in 2013.
Moving into the back half of this exhibit, one passes into a different world, a spiritual, delirious space that memorializes the death and births of members of the group. In the middle of the room, smoke plumes up from a machine inside of a shrine, surrounded by flowers, candles, and personal artifacts. Atmospheric sounds denote a change into a more ethereal space. Mirrors reflect a strong light that emanates from below the smoke; the light forms rectangular shapes on the wall that hold memorials to David Loughridge and commemorations of the birth of Golda Blaise’s new child in 2014. Like a dark, gothic church filled with chants, this shrine to birth and death creates deep-welling emotions in the visitor.
The final room at the Front is a continuation of the previous dream, as boards of old wood are stapled together in lattice-like form with neon-colored lights projected through random areas. Artworks from some of the members not present for this installation are placed here, but they seem an afterthought to the immersive, sensorial framework of the space.
One of the benefits of working in an arts collective is that each member of the group contributes to a shared history, one that lasts longer than an individual’s imperfect recollection. While I never had the pleasure to meet Loughridge, the Meow Wolf memorial has allowed his work and life to persist—and to commingle with the birth of new lives—in a sort of reincarnation. If we accept this shared history as a form of immortality, one that can pass down through generations, then Meow Wolf has given itself a great gift inMoving Still.