about the exhibition
May 02–September 01, 2013ABOUT THE ARTIST
San Antonio-based artist Michael Menchaca’s colorful illustrations and videos draw inspiration from pictorial history books of ancient Mesoamerica known as “codices” that traced history, religion, and geography through a codified, symbolic language. Using this historical precedent, he creates a visual allegory to address sociopolitical issues surrounding the US-Mexican border. For Artpace’s Main Avenue windows, his multi-dimensional installation depicts self-sacrifice in homage to El Diedad del Queso, a rat god, and Aquilas, an eagle deity.
ABOUT THE PROCESS
How did you approach working in Window Works?
I am a printmaker, and since the windows are a similar rectangular shape, I saw this as an opportunity to take what I do in two dimensions and expand it into a three-dimensional space by adding several layers. I begin by creating small sketches and then scanning them into digital renderings. With Illustrator, I can create patterns that perfectly repeat themselves symmetrically and spatially, which references Mesoamerican codices.
How did you get interested in Mesoamerican codices?
I began by looking at current events including illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug smuggling, and when I came across the Aztec codices, I thought about pairing the two things to chronicle the histories of current events in a similar way. The Aztecs created pictorial histories that thrust the visual forward by saying a great deal without the use of text. There was a visual focus that is pattern oriented, and as a printmaker that really appealed to me.
What kind of story are you trying to tell?
The title for the show is AUTOS SACRAMENTALES, auto-sacrificing, which is a ritual activity where one would sacrifice himself for his patron god. In this case, there is a rat deity on the left and an eagle on the right, with additional figures sacrificing themselves to them both. There is a metaphoric meaning behind the symbol of the rat and eagle, but I want to leave the interpretation
What about the cats?
I started off with cats in the beginning of my codex migratus project and when I added a mustache to the cat it became racially charged. I thought, what if this cat had a narrative? This thinking coincided with what I was listening to on NPR at the time, as well as my interest in cartoons. The
cat alone was not enough to be cartoon, it needed content. So the cat became a symbol for a migrant or wanderer. Also, cats are so prevalent in art history that it begins a conversation with ancient art.
Have you always been into cartoons?
The old Warner Brothers cartoons inspired me as a child—the ones that were really stylized and used really flat abstracted shapes, like mountains that were essentially just triangles. Modern painters like Raoul Dufy and Stuart Davis influenced the creators of those cartoons that I was watching. It is dialectic—me being influenced by cartoons, being influenced by modern painters, being influenced by ancient art—it becomes a circle.