Artist and organizer Tuscany Wenger
The forest exhibit in Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return looks like something from the pages of a storybook. Paperthin leaves, hanging willow-like on branching vines, make you wonder how kids will be kept from pulling them down. According to Tuscany Wenger, a local artist and part of the art-management team that organized the exhibit, the branches will be tucked up to prevent grasping fingers from clutching a handful of fake leaves before the show opens to the public. The leaves and branches are tougher than they appear. “These were made on our laser cutter, and they’re Tyvek,” Wenger said. “It’s all been fire-treated.” Tyvek is a durable, tear-resistant plastic.
Activity at the Meow Wolf Art Complex continued daily and long into the night, the more so as the grand opening approached. Wenger and other artists were regularly putting in 12- and 14-hour days. Much of Wenger’s time was spent in the forest, a section of the exhibit composed of four bulbous trees with a fort built into each one — a colorful, whimsical presentation. “The forest is where I started working as a volunteer this summer. Then they hired me on to do some artist and site management,” Wenger said. “The forest was sort of the kitchen of the exhibit for me. I feel like it’s where I had my headquarters. I worked on a lot of the other exhibit parts as well.”
Wenger volunteered to work on House of Eternal Return last summer. She is a member of a loose art collaborative called The Squirrels, who did a room of masks on the exhibit’s upper level. “The Squirrels are a group of my friends,” she said. “I feel like I have some creative input in that project, but mostly I’m giving support, organizing, and helping manage a lot of other people.” She does mean a lot. Meow Wolf’s website states that 135 artists worked on the project. “I make a new list every day,” she said.
Meow Wolf divided the employees into a fabrication team, an art team, a tech team, a narrative team, and a sound team, to name a few, but the roles for each are not clear-cut. “There’s a ton of overlap,” Wenger said. “Almost every team worked on every component, so there was a lot of communication. I primarily worked with the art team. Then there’s a whole slew of individual artists who did independent pieces or rooms. Some are from out of state and were only here for a short time, so the art team took on a little bit of prep or finishing if they didn’t have a lot of time to complete their projects.”
While 70 small nooks and rooms that were primarily designed as individual artist spaces bear each person’s signature in terms of his or her artistic vision, there’s a cohesiveness to the overall exhibit, in part because of the use of similar materials throughout. Many sculptural and architectural components, for instance — whether it’s the stalagmites and walls of the exhibit’s cave system or the anthropomorphic critters that populate the forest — are made from Skratch, a durable but lighter-than- concrete material, or from InstaMorph, a molded plastic sculpting medium. “Artists made everything from the root chandelier to little bats being hung inside. There are a lot of moving parts.”
The trees in the forest were conceived by local artists Caity Kennedy and Amy Westphal, but others helped by applying Skratch and painting the trees. “Amy, using a forge in her studio, forged and welded three of the four tree structures. Then they were filled in with a combination of lath work and many layers of Skratch,” Wenger said. “We tried to get people to have ownership over certain areas. So the individual artists were really responsible for completing their rooms from beginning to end.” One of Wenger’s jobs was to stay in communication with them about their punch lists and time lines.
Wenger has no plans to stay on with Meow Wolf now that the art complex is open. “I’ve enjoyed the building process and told them that I’m very interested in future projects,” she said. “I’m going to take a little time off and do my laundry and pet my cat — stuff like that.” Still, the project has been rewarding. “It’s probably the closest experience I can think of that’s like that bonding that happens when people work on a movie together. I feel like it’s been a peak experience in my life. Everybody has been essentially dedicating their lives to getting this thing built.”