You Have No Idea What’s In-Store For You

Despite the fact that my kids and I share a YouTube account and my recommendations are completely ruined with the insidious algorithm pushing Minecraft content to me that I neither want or need, I still get the occasional pleasant surprise. When I first encountered Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart videos, I, to borrow their in-universe store slogan, had no idea what was in store for me as I ventured down its rabbit hole. I was already a fan of the analog flavour of Youtube horror–the kind of thing typified by Youtube micro-horrors Local 58, Gemini Home Entertainment, and The Backrooms–but Omega Mart scratches a particular itch that I didn’t know I had. 

Omega Mart creators Meow Wolf are a multidisciplinary art collective with outposts in Denver, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas. Started in 2008, it employs artists and visionaries of all sorts to develop “impressive, psychedelic, mind-bending art” projects with a maximalist mindset. A place where Everything Everywhere All At Once and its now-Oscar-toting creators Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert would probably feel right at home. Meow Wolf’s projects include their first permanent exhibit, The House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, which is a modified house which has fallen through time and space and which contains various portals and rifts that fracture reality into explorable, surrealist pieces in the form of whole rooms. 

Omega Mart, like The House of Eternal Return, has a physical space. Built on ideas from Creative Director Emily Montoya and Benji Geary and located in Las Vegas, it’s a similarly explorable, interactive exhibit which is styled after a mind-bending grocery store. In its prototypical form, the original Omega Mart in Santa Fe had Meow Wolf artists working with public school children in the area as part of its educational outreach initiatives to design products to inhabit a fantasy supermarket. This first incarnation of the exhibit was, in fact, a local convenience store in New Mexico which was retrofitted to look and feel like a grocery that might exist in some parallel universe, complete with products that are slightly off. This idea was greatly expanded on with the current Omega Mart exhibit in Vegas, which is a fully-realized, fluorescent-lit grocery experience complete with elaborate displays, advertising, and staff who are all in on the gimmick. 

Just slip on through the portal behind the drink case to The Forked Earth, as you do.

Omega Mart also has a fully-realized backstory. It’s got honest-to-goodness lore. According to the official Omega Mart Story on “parent company” Dramcorp’s website, the store was started by Walter Dram, who renovated a small, struggling convenience store called Alpha Mart into the giant Omega Mart after making a deal with produce supplier Plenty Valley who, as it turns out, is run by an anti-technology Mennonite-like society who sources its food from a mysterious place called Seven Monolith Village in “The Forked Earth.” All of this unravels in a narrative in the actual Omega Mart space in Las Vegas, where attendees make their way through the store, into the pocket dimension where The Forked Earth was created, and complete various tasks that unravel the story of Dramcorp and Omega Mart’s origins, and the seeds of a rebellion which seeks to usurp it. 

But, since I haven’t yet visited the physical spaces, it’s the Omega Mart “advertising” on Youtube that fascinated and continues to fascinate me. Omega Mart’s Youtube presence consists of a number of videos – both fictionalized promotions for Omega Mart products, and an employee training’ series which purports to orient new hires into the wacky world of the twisted supermarket. 

The Omega Mart ads have an analog horror feel to them, and never go anywhere that you’d expect. Most run the length of a typical commercial–about three seconds to a minute long–and seem just slightly off enough to draw you in, before sliding completely off the rails. An ad for Halloween specials, for example, offers ‘nut free salted peanuts’ and a mysterious Glorbox. 

Though mildly terrifying, there’s a dark humour at play which feels, at times, like it was curated just for me. In a way, that’s what Omega Mart seeks to satirize about the grocery store experience. Says Emily Montoya about it: “I also realized how large of a role grocery stores have in shaping the stories we tell ourselves about our own identities. Just seeing the efforts to make the products more and more niche for people. Just like, ‘This is really for you. This is catered to you and your identity.’ The feeling of comfort. ‘There’s something out there for a person like me.’ But then it’s like, ‘Oh, actually it’s really creepy that my identity is being co-opted and sold back to me to try to reinforce my own conception of who I am, in this weird ouroboros kind of situation.’ 

I’m not sure if Meow Wolf is the only art collective that works in the medium of cured meats, but it’s definitely one of them.

While an art installation which encompasses hundreds of artists working in so many varied forms of media (even cured meats!) it may be tough to find a consistent through-line, especially when it’s meant to be a free-form and immersive experience like Meow Wolf has curated here. Omega Mart mostly seems to be skewering consumer culture from various angles. Modern convenience products are satirized like their Power Wings sauce/spray that amazingly, deters squirrels, kills ants, and is delicious on wings. Their Americanized Beef promotion which marries purchases with patriotism via the consumption of candy-coloured steaks. Fascination with drugs and wellness gets its turn in the One-A-Year Vitamin commercial–don’t worry, it can be broken up into 365 easy doses, or you can attend The Swallowing, where vitamin enthusiasts gather annually to take their pill. Uniquely-designed products that can also be found in the Omega Mart physical space in Las Vegas, like “Plausible Deniability Laundry Detergent” and “Who Told You This Was Butter” air freshener are also featured in the ads as weekly specials.  

All of the Omega Mart content manages to deftly balance humour and horror, two of those body genres that make you increasingly unsure if you’re screaming with laughter or with terror. The individual parts, from the videos to the installation, to the products are all considered and beautifully rendered, in their way. Like my favourite art–reputable and disreputable alike–it delights, and then gets a teensy bit disturbing after you think about it for a while. Quite literally, you never know what’s in store for you.


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