I am in a convenience store in Las Vegas, general cans of brightly colored sods everywhere. A masked worker takes me to a wall, where a strange garden is developing. My hands are robot hands. I look at the garden and step up, and there is a strange universe beyond. I am pulled back. We go up a ladder to the side of the convenience store, go up, and then things get even stranger.
I’m not at Meo Wolf’s Omega Mart, which just opened inside Las Vegas’ immersive art space, Area 15. Instead I’m watching all of this on a monitor at home. I’m watching a live-stream (at least I think it’s live) walking through space, recorded on camera, and presented to me as if I embodied a robot worker in this Omega Mart space having had. In short, I’m a tele-prescription and I love it.
Of course, Omega Mart is not enabling this type of virtual journey. The experience is designed to be enjoyed in the individual, exploring this vast dramatic space and touching objects, walking through the gates. It is actually now open for people to participate in person. But I’m not going to do that anytime soon.
I haven’t been, And while I have lived among a lot of people over the past 12 months, I am not alone. I used to go to Las Vegas once a year for a CES show, and in January 2020 I saw Area 15 in the still unfinished building. I went on a hard hat tour. I expected Meo Wolf’s Omega Mart to open soon. I was hoping she would come back when she came.
Meow Wolf, a collective art funded on the part of Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin, began in St. House, New Mexico, called The House of Eternal Return. Mew Wolf expanded to a theme park ride in Denver, and this Las Vegas experience is the group’s next large-scale establishment.
Like The House of Eternal Return, the Omega Mart space is filled with works by immersive artists and musicians, with many rooms featuring walk-through art experiences. Mew Wolf worked with Brian Eno, Eamon Tobin and Centigold for some music in the project.
It starts out as a mundane convenience store, but is followed by a mutation, as do the strange doors in another overlapping story. Experience issues employee ID cards with RFID chips that can be scanned all over the place. Meow Wolf intends to gain storylines and experiences of branching through multiple journeys, and ultimately in Mew Wolf installations, using RFID links.
“The RFID experience is a building block towards a technology platform that will be present both at the exhibition, but will also remain outside the exhibition for a long time, and will allow people to create and co-create Meow’s co-CEO Jim Ward . ” Wolf tells me on the zoom call.
Of course, in my final year at home, I have used virtual theater experiences: projected in VR headsets, over zoom, on headphones, on my furniture and desks. The chance to materialize something in physical space, such as the Mew Wolf made possible in my virtual tour, looks intriguing. But this is not yet part of the experience plans.
Corvis Brinkerhoff, executive creative director of Mew Wolf and one of its founding members, says, “I just think, our bread and butter are creating these mind-blowing huge environments, which are really very hard to explain . “You’ll just have to see it for yourself.”
The immersive space has undergone changes in its extremely hands-free, wandering installation for the COVID-19 era. Brinkerhoff says that most of the exhibition did not need to be changed, but “in some cases, we have short passages through which people pass, climb, crawl, and which have been one-way.” Highly touched surfaces are often cleaned. Employees playing the role of convenience store employees at Omega Mart wear masks.
Mew Wolf seems to be interested in a crossover between a distant man someday. “The idea of an integral co-reality with both our physical sites and digital co-presence is not only an opportunity, but something we absolutely want to do,” Ward says. “We are taking the first step with RFID interactivity … Omega Mart is the first step towards that.”
Mew Wolf also plans to weave their physical locations together. Dozens of phones in the Omega Mart space can be used to check messages in voicemail and access other phones where there may be other characters or people, and eventually even in exhibitions in other cities.
“As we become more sophisticated around predictive modeling and behavior tracking … suddenly a phone can ring next to you, and you answer it, and that’s the character,” Ward says.
But I would love something that can help me to be present in some way now, but not travel. I wonder how a trip to Disney can be, Bridging a chasm for a real real trip in the future. The Mew Wolf could open such doors to the housemates, enticing them for an actual visit to the physical Omega Mart. I will rent the robot body for some time, of course (or, a person who will let me “see” my experience as a telepresence host).
It may not be in the works anymore. But for Meow Wolf and other immersive space, it will help bridge the gap between now and whenever I take my next vacation. Unfortunately, not anytime soon.