Surprising Familiarity At Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station

We’ve been following the countdown and launch of pioneering entertainment company Meow Wolf’s latest project, Convergence Station, for a while now – check out the WXO TV page for a focus on the brilliant promo videos produced by its team. Now that it’s live, WXO Founding Member and Meta founder Justin Bolognino gives his review of what experience designers can learn from the mega-installation.

(For more from Justin, see him giving a mind-bending Firestarter talk on the metaverse here.)

Where to begin when “re-viewing” Meow’s expansive and expensive ($100M!) new effort in Convergence Station in Denver?

In fact “where to begin” is exactly the right question to ask when first arriving at the space. A truly meta-linear experience, this Choose Your Own Psychedelic Adventure begins wherever you want it to. Choose from four different Quantum Travel Portals, each dropping you off in a different realm of the 70+ unique installations, four-storey structure. There are far too many to individually point out, so I’ll focus my review from a more zoomed out, general perspective.

Gremlin Symphony. Photo by Kate Russell/Meow Wolf Denver

Meow Wolf’s decentralized story orbits around “QDOT,” or the “Quantum Department of Transportation”. QDOT takes travelers to four different otherworldly realms via the “TRAM,” or Transmonic Rift Access Mechanism system.

What’s good about the experience?

Meow Wolf characters exploring the past in the Library, part of Meow Wolf’s Denver exhibit. Photo by Kate Russell/Meow Wolf
  • Look; I’m a sucker for Quantum Time travel because, who isn’t? I’ve been known to explore the deepest reaches of more… illuminated realms for quite some time. And let’s be clear here: this is a deeply psychedelic experience, with many spaces both familiar, if not recognizable, from spaces you might find yourself within other dimensions.
  • That sense of familiarity was at the heart of the best rooms at Convergence Station. This feeling of “I know this place—have I been here before?”. Maybe it was in a dream, or on the edge of a near-death experience, or while staring into the campfire. Tapping that familiarity hits deep and is affective at the primal “smells like Nona’s pasta sauce” level.
Exhibit by Andrea Thurberg. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell/Meow Wolf
  • Memories are core to the meta-story. This is a Memento-style journey in, through, around and into Time itself, capital T. Quantum storage of memories, memory recall systems.
  • Music, and especially musicality, is one of the standout forms across the different realms. Many spaces feature interactive instruments that you can play, set to be easily interacted with and often supported by musical scores that drive better interaction. A particular interactive musical standout was the giant, white, church-like organ inside the glass cathedral room, stunning in its depth of design, interaction design, musicality and just plain fun. Spatial and targeted audio design permeate the space, tuned for each installation. Hats off to the sound design team for their depth and focus.
  • Old, Atari-style video games embedded within the strangest of objects, or a hands-on, IRL boxing match between two rats controlled by joysticks set in a broken down, 80s-feeling Bronx basement. This room really bore itself deeply into my subconsciousness, bubbling up often later that night over and over again.

What could be improved?

Exhibit by Salawn. Photo by KennedyCottrell/Meow Wolf
  • As someone who has built their career on putting artists front and center, Meow Wolf has always felt more about the brand itself as a centralized institution, as opposed to truly a supporter of artists, producers, and technologists. While they certainly have improved over time in crediting and putting the artists out there, there’s seemingly always room for improvement. 
  • While Meow Wolf prides itself on being community-driven, bottom up in operation, at the end of the day there is still a top-down, dripping-with-capital tinge to the overall experience. Having set, distinct units that call out the artists and teams within each realm would go a long way to improving this. 
  • We’d planned around two hours for our journey, which became a point of anxiety as we moved from realm to realm, realizing how much ground to cover in what we learned was much too short an amount of time. Meow Wolf Denver is an all-day experience, and my only regret was not planning enough time to really dive deeply in and have the patience to explore it, honoring the three years spent by so many artists, producers, systems designers, engineers, architects, etc it took to bring this truly extraordinary experience to life. It was hard not to think about all the people behind the scenes beyond the artists that it took to pull it all off.

Which elements did you like so much you’d like to use them in your work?

The Cathedral deep within Meow Wolf’s Ice World, Denver. Photo by Kate Russell/Meow Wolf
  • We’ve always sought to make technology invisible, but Convergence Station really takes this to the next level. 
  • Another general highlight was the seamless technology integration, with all electronics and screen buried in soft, oozy substance or framed to appear as non-technology. The best of immersive experiences allow the technology to blend in, and not stand out from, the experience. Everything there is designed to be touched, interacted with, experimented with.

If you’re in Denver and would like to try Convergence Station for yourself, you can book tickets here.

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