By Cory Phare
As you enter the pizza-slice-shaped structure at the nexus of Interstate 25 and Colfax Avenue in Denver, you’re greeted with a crossroads of kaleidoscopic options.
“It’s very similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure book,” said Tori Bohling, a Communication Design student who recently wrapped a creative direction internship at the technicolor wonderland known as Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station.
Bohling is one of several Metropolitan State University of Denver students and alumni among the Colorado artists and creatives who have contributed to the much-anticipated Sept. 17 launch of the Mile High City’s latest art destination.
“You change the narrative as you experience it and become part of the story by proxy of the people you’re with in that moment,” she said. “In a traditional art gallery, you’re observing art. When you’re here, the art is observing you.”
Meow Wolf began in 2008 when a collection of artists in Santa Fe, New Mexico, turned an old bowling alley into a live-action rendering of imagination, inviting attendees to open a seemingly innocuous refrigerator and step into a multisensory world. Funding from “Game of Thrones” creator George R.R. Martin turned the experiment into a permanent structure. A second site launched this year: Las Vegas’ meta-supermarket, Omega Mart.
Like its predecessors, the Auraria Campus-adjacent outpost is a behemoth of stimulation that defies succinct description. The four-story, 90,000-square-foot exhibition is equal parts mixed-media art installation, Chuck E. Cheese fever dream and day-glo IKEA.
For Ashley Frazier, it’s the next iteration of an age-old tradition of being “engulfed by art.”
“It reminds me of the Sistine Chapel, where you’re surrounded by painting – you’re really forced to take it all in by being there,” said the 2012 MSU Denver Studio Art alumna.
Frazier and partner Michael Sperandeo’s installation, “Obsolete Obscurity,” joins the work of more than 110 Colorado artists contributing to Convergence Station.
Another unique element Frazier noted is the approachability for those who otherwise might be turned off by the sterility of a more traditional gallery’s white walls and “do not touch” ethos.
And that’s fitting, as Frazier’s work incorporates outdated technology such as pay phones, old Nintendo controllers and bulky first-generation cellphones. It recalls bygone means of interactivity and explores the concept of catacombs, one of the location’s four thematic threads.
“With the physical structure, there’s an element of permanence,” she said. “But it’s also about the sense of touch; it’s not as precious. It will be interesting to see how that affects people.”
Frazier credited longtime MSU Denver Professor Carlos Frésquez for helping her see art as an act of social responsibility and demonstrating how to make a living while also maintaining artistic intention. That mentorship helped launch a creative career that’s seen her exhibit at places such as the renowned Denver RedLine Contemporary Art Center.
Techno-dialectic-as-growth shows up in the work of another Roadrunner alumna featured in the exhibition.
“Art is a critical tool for communication and unity,” said Corrina Espinosa, a 2011 Sculpture graduate. “When people think of (art) as optional or a luxury, they’re mistaken; it’s really embedded in every part of our lives.”
Espinosa works under the Autonomous Soup moniker and teaches digital art at the University of Colorado Denver. Her installation consists of a three-panel vertical triptych, using motors to create dancing figures in a kind of “kinetic puppetry.”
Espinosa, who became a mother twice during the three-year span from concept to completion of her installation, noted the importance of family and community to overcome the challenges she faced in seeing through a difficult process.
It’s her hope, however, that attendees tap into their own experiences as they immerse themselves in the art and reflect on life: the good, the bad and the ugly.
“I do believe immersion and connection are part of the future,” she said.
That adaptive, multimodal future also includes creatives such as Cyrena Rosati, a junior in MSU Denver’s Studio Art program who recently concluded an art direction internship at Convergence Station. Rosati expressed excitement about the multisensory experience awaiting attendees.
“Music and visual art are super-connected,” she said. “Sound is very purposefully a huge part throughout the exhibition and not just in the music venue (a 488-person-capacity space dubbed the Perplexiplex).”
Rosati, also a musician in Denver noise-rock act Quits, drew the connection between Meow Wolf’s underground origins and Denver DIY spaces such as the Seventh Circle Music Collective and Rhinoceropolis. She noted that although the experiential franchise has grown far beyond its basement roots, she expects the Denver outlet to still provide attendees with time to disconnect from the outside world and lose themselves in a dreamland.
“Art is for everyone, and we need it now more than ever,” Rosati said. “It’s helped us get through this whole thing. And now, we have this brand-new experience as we’re hopefully coming out to the other side together.
“I really see (this launch) as a celebration.”
Cory Phare, Communications, Metropolitan State University of Denver.
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