Ice-Station Quellette is an evolving and expanding media project, an ongoing super fiction about a team of polar explorers and scientists, realized through original art, vintage and manipulated ephemera, sculpture, characters, narrative, and installation – dedicated to illuminating the future through the past, the present through the future, science through art, and art through science.
The Ice Station is on display as part of the Meow Wolf collective's grand installation, the work of a raucous team of artists, music and film-makers, artisanal welders, laser-cutters, and tech-creatives. The 35,000 square-foot rehab of an abandoned bowling alley, helped in part by George RR Martin, "Game of Thrones" author, is loosely connected along a central narrative, and visitors can "play" the space like a game. Even more ambitious projects are now in the works for Las Vegas and Denver. The opening attracted press in the New York Times, the LA Times and the London Telegraph, plus coverage across various arts and tech and science fiction sites.
INSTALLATION NOTES: The House of Eternal Return installation started coalescing in the summer of 2015 at raucous meetings in vast, rented industrial spaces near the site. I had my first Ice Station show at Philspace and was working on expanding the show to Santa Fe Institute.
The original Meow Wolf core assumed leadership roles, and the various teams – Tech, Narrative, Fabrication, Film, et al – gave presentations on interactivity experiments, backstory, construction safety, and more. Many had relocated to participate; the excitement was high, and so was the learning curve. MW had a lot of experience in site installation, but the scale and formality was new, requiring detailed architectural plans, building permits, fireproofing, and project management.
We got into the building at the start of January; first job was mopping up the floor, which involved carrying buckets of water from across the street in Detroit-freezing weather. Hard hats and steel-toe shoes were to be worn at all times, with threat of $10,000 fines. I was burning through sketchpads, designing the space and a construction game plan. I wanted to re-create the Ice Station, with the Mimizuku Spaceowl as the centerpiece. Whatever I did had to be impervious to rowdy visitors, i.e., designed for abuse.
I enlisted help from a fellow who had experience in building and lighting tech named Cary Cluett. We had to first construct the 13-foot “oculus” ceiling, and then Cary had a plan to curve sheetrock to fill the big corner. The ceilings were 13 feet and there were a few hilarious mishaps with the scissor lift, nicknamed Lil Kevin.
A lot of artists were doing double-duty on the Fabrication Team, and still, Cris Brodsky and Chris Hilson jumped in to help – a lot. An artist named Tuscany Wenger who does beautiful delicate work in paper became chief of floor operations; she was an indispensable go-to, working insane 12-hour shifts. Many artists did their work in the graveyard and lobster hours when the atmosphere changed from construction site to work party, especially in the last few weeks before opening.
I learned appreciation for mud-and-tape artisans, working obsessively on the walls with joint compound, house paint and then matte sealer. I wanted the result to feel like a giant abstract ice painting, in 360. The portholes are for actual ships; I experimented with the relationship between image and color shifts from the LED strips to create a sense of movement.
The owl was anchored with a salvaged metal base; the round grill from a Terminator movie shoot sparked the ‘vent’ concept, a donation from art/film professionals Marisa Frantz and Colin Zaug. Cary built the heavy framework and wired the lights and the monitor for the owl’s screen-face, I smoothed the vent exterior in Skratch, a sculpting material used throughout the exhibit. Cary then built a special large-scale kiln at the community college shop to melt and shape the acrylic, then hand-forged the hardware.
An artist named Yon Hudson helped pull together the faux fur for the owl with surgical skill and precision, and I created a simple animation in Flash of the owl’s blinking eyes. Sea slugs and an octopus made of Skratch and plaster cast-wrap followed. And Katherine Lee of Extraordinary Structures, a high-tech home manufacturing company, designed the bench in a 3D program and output it in MDF at their incredible facility.