San Antonio artist Michael Menchaca’s Artpace exhibition The 1836 Project is an immersive video installation employing poppy animation to take aim at “the colonial fantasies of the Texas creation myth.”
Michael Menchaca: The 1836 Project (Extended Widescreen Edition)
July 15–September 6, 2021
Artpace, San Antonio
Artpace’s International Artist-in-Residence program follows a unique format—a guest curator invites a Texas artist, a national artist, and an international artist to live and work in San Antonio for two months—that often unites locals with internationally recognized talent.
Curated by Pilar Tompkins Rivas, the summer 2021 edition comprises projects by Iván Argote (Paris/ Bogotá), Nao Bustamante (Los Angeles), and Michael Menchaca (San Antonio). While Argote’s All Here Together addresses the removal of colonizer statues and Bustamante’s Bloom examines archaic gynecological practices, Menchaca takes aim at “the colonial fantasies of the Texas creation myth” with The 1836 Project (Extended Widescreen Edition).
A prolific Xicanx artist who draws inspiration from Mesoamerican codices, Menchaca first won over fans with prints employing an anthropomorphic cast—rats with machine guns, mustachioed cats crossing the Rio Grande—to illustrate immigration and border issues. In recent years, Menchaca has proven to be a talented digital animator, presenting installations combining buzzy videos atop wallpapered backgrounds. In these layered affairs, Menchaca appropriates flashy hallmarks of internet culture to draw viewers into loaded conversations.
With its title alone, The 1836 Project references an advisory committee named for the year Texas gained independence from Mexico. Although the committee aims to promote “patriotic education,” Menchaca’s exhibition statement suggests it will instead be “a continuation of whitewashing history and suppressing people of color.”
Evocative of channel surfing, Instagram scrolling, and video games, the five-channel video spins myriad references into an immersive projection exploring “the revisionist history of colonization and white supremacist tropes in popular culture.” Joining Menchaca’s signature humanoid felines and other hybrid characters are numerous Tex-centric references—from Davy Crockett in a live raccoon cap to a cover of Alamo fanboy Phil Collins’s hit “Against All Odds”—not to mention an avalanche of social media posts that might give you the urge to unplug. Menchaca, who boycotted social media “for violating global democracies via invasive surveillance capitalist trends,” would likely approve.