A Lounge Cruise with the Due Return

I am due for a second visit to the Due Return – the 75-foot-long beached ship-interactive installation that dominates Munoz-Waxman Gallery at CCA Santa Fe, and around which an elaborate narrative, constructed by the Meow Wolf collective, and populated by the public, is taking place. The exhibition with related special events has been extended til August 21.

The Due Return, living in something called TD +31, is, as art installations go, a very big, elaborate,crafty ship with many appurtenances, nooks, portholes, environments and stuff – as well as submariney lighting that occasioned development of an Iphone app called Elixir.

The story starts with the premise that the ship has landed on an alien planet after epochs of time-travel. Part Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, part Star Trek, The Due Return is therefore a hybrid: A maximalist stage for role-playing, a community site, maybe (or not) an “art” installation.

Putting briefly back into circ the old Michael Fried/Robert Smithson argument, Fried started it when in ’67 he wrote, that “art degenerates when it approaches the conditions of theater.” Smithson fought famously back finally observing that, “At any rate, eternity brings about the dissolution of belief in temporal histories, empires, revolutions, and counter-revolutions—all becomes ephemeral and in a sense unreal, even the universe loses its reality.”

To crib, the Due Return is a temporal history that is theatrical and maybe empirical, too. As in, empire. I’m going to graft some questions onto it, just for fun.

The green lighting experience of the Due Return

Is the narrative a story of traveling through many epochs and gathering along the way cultural detritus, the junk of thrift stores? Is the ship a collective hoarding through time? Is it a valuation of all that can be thought up, and through a willful group act, re-constructed, with hammered planks and programmed motherboards of made meaning?

It is certainly a modern relic, this big ship. The striking-est feature of The Due Return is its size. It proposes and is big. The lighting forest is simultaneously part of the spell – are you breathing oxygen but underwater, beached but in motion? Have you arrived? At a ship or art or a lounge?

I am at this instant wishing to propose that the Due Return is the occupant of a temporary anchorage against the chaos of our not knowing what to call anything anymore.

Belowdeck at The Due Return

I don’t see that Meow Wolf has much to do with any art movements, save DIY. And community action. Which of course are also very big movements these days – but maybe design movements more than art movements? In a nutshell, I’m being a somewhat cranky critic in raising the question of whether the “energy” and the “focus” of Meow Wolf  matched. I’ve also been troubled by the full-page national art advertising I’ve seen by The Due Return, not because it’s there, but because it makes me wonder if the motivation is to be edgy, or the motivation – once known enough for being edgy – is to move fully into the commercial mainstream?

(Full disclosure just if it comes up: My husband, Conrad Skinner, was also a contestant at SPREAD – at which Meow Wolf won the first winner-take-all purse last spring.)

Its energy has never been in question and is really welcome. On the coming schedule for the last month of the Due Return is proof of energy building on itself.  [Replete with exclamation points, here’s the schedule: Friday, July 30th – “Web of Love” a Puppet Show, and “Hast Scene” a Shadow Performance

Satuday, August 6th – Due Return Dance Party featuring DJ SATTVAand guests

Saturday, August 13th – LIONHEAD BUNNY and Madeline Johnston!
Saturday, August 20th – SUPER POWERED DANCE DESTROYER feat.DIRT GIRL and guests
Sunday, August 21st – CLOSING PARTY!! With a special guests to be announced soon!]

Back to the art talk. Having visited both The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City and TinkerTown behind Albuquerque, I called both to mind at intervals. Also, Mithra by Mark Bradford, part of Prospect 1 New Orleans (2008-9), a beached boat that was both site of abandon and allusion to refuge after Hurriane Katrina.

Mark Bradford's Mithra, at Prospect.1 New Orleans (2008-9)

Material culture is overboard. Living anywhere is walking on thin topsoil over fossil-record histories. The great shroud of the sea rolls as it rolled thousands of years ago. And so on.

But, vis a vis the Due Return, I came away believing that Meow Wolf likely got too involved in the interrogation of where to put something, rather than why.  And, I still want to know why this reverie of strange and not some other?

In New Orleans in May, I went on a Saturday afternoon to 12 art collectives or hybrid artists’ group-gallery settings. One, PARSE, run by artists, has taken over a building that was for sale, pre-storm, for something like $7 million. It’s hard to tell as you encounter the green-designed chicken coop and the feral cat bird arrangements whether this was “made,” or is a happening in progress. It was refreshing. My former student, Rachel DeTrinis, is part of one of these collectives, In hers a dozen artists pay in a small monthly sum to have four exhibit or curating opportunities per year.

What I like most of all about this comparison I’m forcing on Meow Wolf is that it ain’t me  arguing theory or whys or anything else. It’s that there’s enough of the them, the collectives, jurying, critiquing, disagreeing with one another. Ultimately what is remembered is what people got hot enough to argue about.

Rachel DeTrinis installation at PARSE Gallery, New Orleans, May 2011

The Due Return is definitely an experience you should have. But is it art or a lounge?



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  1. Arlo Barnes says:

    My favorite lines from this, poetic:
    I am at this instant wishing to propose that the Due Return is the occupant of a temporary anchorage against the chaos of our not knowing what to call anything anymore.
    Living anywhere is walking on thin topsoil over fossil-record histories.

    But also, I think the Due Return was/is art – the cutting-edge art of bringing abstract thoughts in artistic objects to the painfully mainstream public community. I have never thought to apply the label ‘lounge’ to the DR; perhaps partially due to an aberrance of the imagination, but I think that term is almost demeaning (no offense meant towards self-described lounges, most of which I am sure are very nice). The Due Return sparked a thought, an emotion in me; behavior like that is characteristic of, simply, art.


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