May 13, 2022

Photo Essay: Meow Wolf's Omega Mart in Las Vegas Claws at Modern Consumerism

One of the new arrivals to Vegas since my last visit in 2019 was Area 15...

...with its outdoor event space and sculpture garden and multiple immersive, interactive attractions indoors.

Its centerpiece is the Las Vegas installment of Meow Wolf—an expansion of the Santa Fe immersive art collective founded by Emily Montoya and Benji Geary.

Their Vegas creation is called Omega Mart—and it's a topsy-turvy, parallel universe-type "mega mart" that opened in February 2021. 

 Produce Shelf by Emily Montoya

This grocery store from another dimension offers produce grown in the fictional agrarian community of Plenty Valley...

...including custom products like "happy apples," or "Happles," which date back to a decade ago when Meow Wolf first tested the Omega Mart idea in Santa Fe.

Almost everything on the store's shelves is for sale (unless it's bolted down)—but not everything is actually edible. The "Corn of Plenty" cereal boxes by artist Nick Toll are actually full of grains of High Density Poly Ethylene, which no one should even try eating and which are most definitely choking hazards. 

In real life, I love wandering grocery store aisles all over the country—and even in other parts of the world—to see what flavors I haven't yet tried or what kind of tasty food innovations are out there. But at Omega Mart, the packaged goods don't hide their genetically modified origins. 

Is it dark humor? Or just a refreshing blast of stark honesty?

L'Omega Box Mosaic by Sydnee Mejia

Some varieties spoke to me more than others—like the parody La Croix flavors like Dispassionfruit and New Car (for those who don't want to just smell it, but taste it as well). 

As an art project, it's a comment on the commoditization of nearly everything in our society—which packages every bit of our identity and core values and finds a way to sell it. 

Some of Omega Mart's products are real—but just repackaged and renamed (like the wasabi peas that are transformed into leprechaun kidneys). 

Others beg the question: What is real? If you can't believe it's not butter, what is butter, anyway? 

There's a certain "truth in advertising" found in Omega Mart that makes the "Big Food" items in real supermarkets look somehow fake.  
And there's more than just a nod to pop culture commercialism à la Andy Warhol—and not just in the soup (er, sop) aisle. 

If wooly mammoths were alive today, would we can and eat their meat?

Where will the "Flamin' Hot" trend end?

If toxic masculinity could be bottled, could we make more informed choices in our social circles by simply avoiding those who drank it?

 Dairy Glitch by Emily Montoya

Those were some of the narratives going on in my head as I wandered the Omega Mart aisles...
By Emily Montoya

...but there was an actual storyline I was supposed to be following, which would reveal itself more overtly once I entered one of the "portals" (like the one through the janitor closet door, behind the meat counter, or the one in the "Frosty Drinkables" cooler section). 
  Cooler bottles by Brent Sommerhauser

The portals lead to the "factory" behind the scenes...

...where dozens of unique rooms offer sound, light, color, and shapes, like the "Juke Temple" by Lead Designer Carey Thompson with Lighting Designer Brian Pinkham...

..."Pulse" by Claudia Bueno...

...and "Upload Ghosts" by Stephen Hendee. 

But the "Factory" section of Omega Mart also helps reveal the secretive origins of the grocer's products—like the Florisium, where the flowers for the store are grown, and where you can find the installation "Almost Earth" by Jesse Wilson of Skull Island. 

Lenticular ceiling by Jacob Tonski

There are also the corporate offices of Dramcorp, a fictionalized representation of "Big Grocery" that's rife with scandal, hostile (and possibly violent) takeovers, surveillance, and Additive S (which protestors claim not only brainwashes you, but also addicts you). 

This is the part where Omega Mart turns into something like an escape room or immersive theatre—where, if you sit at a desk, the phone might ring and a voice on the other end might urge you to take some action (or to not believe what you've been told). 

To get out, just take a ride down a double-helix slide and start opening any door that'll budge to find your way back into the fluorescent fantasy of Omega Mart's fake store.

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