Downtown San Antonio’s historic Aztec Theatre is preparing to host a weeklong immersive pop-up art experience starting later this week. The event is co-presented by beer brand Pabst Blue Ribbon and local creative agency Wide Awake. Entitled “In Living Pixels,” the immersive show will feature work by seven San Antonio-based artists and will be free to the public.
This is the latest expansion of Pabst’s downtown footprint. The company relocated its corporate headquarters to San Antonio last year, and in November announced the construction of a 1.5-acre culture park at Avenue B and 6th Street. In early March, the brewer opened Pabst Blue Ribbon Studios, an art gallery in Southtown that will host rotating exhibitions and a monthly First Friday DJ event; the first one, held on Good Friday, featured variations of the Pabst can design hung on the walls, and was sparsely attended when the Heron visited.
“Fundamentally, as a brand, our core pillar is celebrating creativity,” said Seamus Gallagher, Pabst’s Senior Brand Manager of Culture. “Ultimately what we’re doing (in San Antonio) is what we do everywhere, we’ve just never had feet on the street in San Antonio.”
The connection to the Aztec, one of downtown’s iconic buildings, came through Pabst Blue Ribbon’s long-standing relationship with global entertainment company Live Nation, which operates the theatre. Pabst has also partnered with Live Nation for recent installations at the Hollywood Palladium and The Fillmore, a renovated textile mill in Charlotte, N.C.
The Aztec sits in a part of downtown, at East Commerce and North St. Mary’s streets, that’s seen heavy development in recent years. It’s across the street from Canopy By Hilton, a boutique River Walk hotel that’s nearing completion.
The format of “In Living Pixels” echoes another recent addition to the downtown landscape: Hopscotch, an immersive art space across the street from Travis Park Church, which opened last October.
Pabst’s Gallagher arrived in San Antonio four weeks ago. To better engage the local arts community, he enlisted the services of Wide Awake, a creative agency founded by Paloma Cortez and Pamela Rachél in 2018. Both grew up in San Antonio, attended the same college in Oklahoma, and later spent about a decade each in adjacent professional fields in Chicago.
Cortez and Rachél returned to San Antonio in 2018 (though Rachél still commutes to Chicago), and founded Wide Awake to adapt their professional experiences to the local arts space. “We came from big agencies, but we found the best way for us to work is collaborating with other artists, especially here in San Antonio,” Cortez told the Heron.
In addition to the Wide Awake founders, “In Living Pixels” will feature work by five local artists, including Domeinic Jimenez, a mixed-media artist and craftsman. Jimenez previously collaborated with Wide Awake for its installation at Hopscotch, one of 14 currently featured in the space.
Cortez said she is excited to collaborate with a few artists whose work she’s encountered in San Antonio over the last few years. These include Chris Sauter, who created an architectural installation as part of the McNay’s 2018 “Immersed” exhibition, and Natalia Rocafuerte, a video and sound artist whose work investigates dreams and the immigrant experience.
Another artist featured in “In Living Pixels” is San Antonio native Charlie Kitchen. Cortez saw Kitchen’s October 2020 solo show at Southtown gallery Presa House, and said that she was excited to invite him to participate in the upcoming pop-up, which a press release describes as “creative interpretations of the digital and natural world.”
Kitchen’s installation will include a makeshift screen fabricated from artificial palm leaves painted projector screen-gray, with a video work of his projected on top. “(It’s) thinking about different levels of the way we visualize video,” Kitchen said, adding that he landed on the palm leaf motif as a nod to the Aztec’s architectural pastiche of iconography from the Aztec, Maya, and other Mesoamerican cultures. “Hidden temple vibes,” in Kitchen’s words.
Kitchen also works full-time as the building manager at Artpace, and has collaborated several times with other artists in “In Living Pixels,” including Jimenez and Sauter. He says that Wide Awake “definitely operates on a different level” than Artpace. “I don’t know what exactly it is, but I’d say they’re more geared towards entertainment, and the commercial aspects of ‘art,’ ” Kitchen observed.
“In Living Pixels” will include five installations along with a Creators Lab—”a space where two creators provide experiential engagements inspired by the installations including nail art and aura photography,” according to a press release. The experience is capped off with a bar on the upper deck of the Aztec and music from DJs furnished by St. Mary’s Strip bar Midnight Swim. The exhibition will be open from 5-10 p.m. each day beginning Friday through April 15, and is free, but reservations must be made online in advance. The Creators Lab will only be available on the opening weekend (Friday and Saturday; April 9-10) from 5-8 p.m. each day.