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Meow Wolf, “Nucleotide” installation at Thomas Robertello Gallery in Chicago (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

CHICAGO — If a tree grows in Brooklyn, a cave populated by neon flora ‘n fauna blooms in Chicago by way of New Mexico. Nucleotide is the spawn of Meow Wolf, an 18-person collective from Santa Fe that has been making large-scale immersive installations since 2007. This installation which was created specifically for Thomas Robertello Gallery (runs through December 14) is an immersive environmental experience created from materials both organic and inorganic, bought and found, realistic and completely surreal.

Stepping into this environment is like entering an imagined cave landscape from Planet Zandar, which I’ve made up especially for the purposes of this story, an acid-induced magical mystery tour created by disciples of the Beatles, and the leftovers of a rave that was once populated by folks donned in lace who were carrying light sticks before they came down and lost them all in a haze. Christmas lights and Lite Brite lites dot the interior of this freeing and freeform landscape where the collective creative consciousness of 18 artists grows and flows, immersing visitors in a trippy post-trance surreality.

This installation stands in deft comparison to its physical location in Chicago’s West Loop, which is often times compared to New York City’s Meatpacking District. The West Loop is an environment filled with white cube galleries, freshly constructed high-rise complexes, gray cement streets, brick buildings, and warehouse-sized high-end restaurants. Separated from the sleek urban landscape, Nucleotide exists as its own separate ecosystem, entirely artist-made and operated, that glows against the urban grit. Sparkly objects, miniature terrarium-esque environments built into walls, and unimaginable crevices covered in silver foil where, if you step inside to take a selfie and step around, motion sensors pick up on you and release beats accordingly. Despite the collective’s fur-inducing name, however, no cats were present at the time of exhibition.

Nucleotide at Thomas Robertello Gallery (217 N. Morgan, Chicago) runs through December 14.

The writer taking a selfie inside Meow Wolf’s immersive installation. Mrreeoowww.

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Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED...