One of our goals with the blog is to take people behind the scenes for a glance into our thought process behind House of Eternal Returnand some of our ongoing projects.
No one creates in a vacuum and you can see some of our collected influences on display inside The House of Eternal Return. We’d also like to be an access point for people, a window to artists who aren’t exactly household names as far as the public at large is concerned. So if you liked what you saw inside Meow Wolf, consider looking up some of these other artists as well.
Artist, Yayoi Kusama — A Japanese pop, feminist and surrealist artist, Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929) influenced other creators including George Segal and Andy Warhol! One of the first works of hers I saw was at Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory museum (which rules!). Just down the hallway from a James Turrell installation was Kusama’s Repetitive Vision (1996). I walked into the antechamber of the installation and foolishly assumed that that was all. I leaned against what I assumed was a wall and felt it give. It was actually a door! I opened it and saw mannequins covered in polka dots stretching off into infinity. I was completely unprepared for it and it remains one of the coolest surprises I’ve ever experienced.
The thesis of the room is, Yayoi’s epiphany that immersive environments can change reality itself. She had this to say about Repetitive Vision:
“My ominous recollection: one day, I was looking at a tablecloth covered in red flowers, which was spread out on the table. Then I looked up towards the ceiling. There, on the windows and even on the pillars, I would see the same red flowers. They were all over the place in the room, my body, and entire universe. I finally came to a self-obliteration and returned to be restored to the infinity of eternal time and the absoluteness of space. I was not having a vision. It was a true reality. I was astounded. Unless I got out of here, the curse of those flowers will seize my life! I ran frantically up the stairs. As I looked down, the sight of each step falling apart made me stumble. I fell all the way down the stairs and sprained my leg.”
Disneyland — Meow Wolf CEO Vince Kadlubek is something of an amusement park junkie. Every couple of years his family makes a pilgrimage to Disneyland in California and Vince goes after the different park attractions with a ferocity that puts most of the kids there to shame. Disney occupies a strange place in culture. On one hand it symbolizes some of the worst relationships between business and art, on the other the park is a clockwork city that treats its different attractions with utmost care, even reverence. Where else can you watch pirates sack a coastal village, then get menaced by a yeti on a mountain peak and then get sucked through a black hole all in the space of one afternoon? Vince had this to say about his complicated relationship with Disneyland and with its creator, Walt Disney:
"There is a lot to dislike about Disney and Walt himself. The work is rather single-toned and homogenized. There is a lack of surprise. Culturally, it feels boring at this point. But, without a doubt, Walt Disney's creation of fantastic worlds is probably the largest single influence in my life."
Artist, Tara Donovan — Donovan (b. 1969) creates site-specific art installations that are deceptively built out of dirt-common household objects. She builds alien scenes out of everything including paper plates, straws and foam cups. This artists work left an impression on Meow Wolfer Caity Kennedy, who had this to say about it:
“She uses everyday materials to make a truly magical textural sculpture, totally transforming those materials without really changing them. A perfect combination of beauty, modernism, naturalism, and maximalism.”
There's a shift between low and high that we admire. Donovan spoke to the New York Times and said that once her art installations have run their course they're "taken away with a shovel." This suggests that the common materials that make up her installations exist in an excited superstate for a brief amount of time. When they can no longer occupy this higher place, they collapse back into inert, dumb matter.
Artist, Bill Watterson — I was sick with the chickenpox for a week in the third grade and my mom gave me a copy of Calvin & Hobbes: The Days are Just Packed to help me pass the time. I was hooked! I memorized every last strip in the book. In Calvin I found a parallel for my own imagination. The abandoned strip mine behind my house looked a lot like the desert planets Calvin would visit as Spaceman Spiff. The monsters lurking under Calvin’s bed had frightful conversations with him in the same way my nighttime monsters did with me. I even had a hill or two nearby that were perfect for thrilling, but ill-fated wagon rides.
It’s easy to read the strip as a platitude — how wonderful is the imagination of a child! But for me the theme of the comic is that imagination gives one all the potency and vibrancy that most denizens of the vanilla world lack. It also comes with a cost. Calvin’s imagination wasn’t quaint; it was chaos. It put him at odds with his classmates and with every single authority figure he encountered in the strip’s 10-year runtime.
Looking back at Calvin as an adult, I also have to appreciate the fact that Calvin was so lonely he had to create his own best friend. But if that's the tradeoff for the infinity that exists inside your mind, it's fair.
Using a brilliant palette of colors and painstaking, expressive illustrations as his arguments, Watterson told a generation of kids my age that it wasn’t only okay to be strange, but that strangeness was an asset. With it you can build a richer and more full life than the monochrome one provided for you.
Artist, Paul Laffoley — Paul Laffoley (1935 - 2015) studied architecture at Harvard but his artistic life was dedicated to studying the architecture of the cosmos. His visionary work wraps spirituality with a healthy dose of extra-terrestrial influence, of the sort discussed on late-night AM radio talk shows. Whole articles are devoted to the claim that the artist had a metallic object implanted in his head following contact with a UFO. While I was looking over some of his works for this piece I was reminded of the diagrams of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory that preceded their respective books in Dante's Divine Comedy. I no sooner had the thought than I came across a Laffoley painting of Purgatory:
Not only paintings, but also maps! At a glance you get the sense that Laffoley is trying to communicate something of extreme cosmological importance to you. That's what Meow Wolfer Corvas Brinkerhoff keyed in on:
"I recently discovered (and totally lost my shit over) visionary painter Paul Laffoley. He made these incredibly detailed and structured paintings that are meticulous codices for metaphysical concepts and processes. It's as if he has decoded the mysteries of the universe and is transmitting his findings through his paintings."
teamLab — teamLab is a collaborative group from Tokyo founded in 2001 by Toshiyuki Inoko. Describing themselves as "ultra-technologists" (dope) they wed digital and installation art to create wholly unique environments. Sometimes the viewer is meant to engage with the pieces, such as works that have large inflatable elements demanding to be touched. Other times the sheer light, sound and animation coming together forces one to stand back and drink everything in.
In an interview with CNN one of the ultra-technologists said their goal was to trigger a synesthesia experience with their work. They also like to work large, comparing different sections of a piece to planets in a solar system:
The concept is more about the feeling in the body or a physical thing using the five senses at the same time with other people. We wanted to have this completely immersive huge installation, more than 3,000 square meters. There is no right order when people wander through the whole installation -- planet to planet as they like.