Fantasia Colorado takes inspiration from an event that sounds too improbable to be true; it includes a double murder mystery, a ghost, and a rogue camel that terrorized the post-Civil War American West for almost a decade. Fantasia Colorado blurs fact and fiction by examining the boundaries where myths are born.
Raina Belleau and Caleb Churchill question how we remember events through the examination of the aftermath and the founding of the Camel Corps, an effort by Jefferson Davis in 1855 to employ camels in the United States Army. The story spun fantastical fictions across the region, but no rumor is more dazzling than the truth.
This collaborative installation forces the viewer to question their acceptance of both the facts and fictions surrounding historical factual folklore.
After proving unsuccessful in Civil War efforts, the Camel Corps was dissolved, and the animals were turned loose. In 1883, a woman was trampled to death by what was described as a huge, red beast driven by a skeletal figure strapped to its back. As sightings of the beast began to multiply, tall tales spread throughout the region. This ghost had (across multiple accounts) killed cattle and bears, run faster than any animal, was close to thirty feet tall, and could disappear from sight at will. Quickly dubbed “The Red Ghost,” this US Army trained camel, terrorizing suburban Colorado and Arizona, was a factual inspiration for great myth, albeit with details and truth lost to conjecture.
Entering the gallery, the viewer will be presented with a lifesized camel sculpture alongside busts of the Camel Corps' founding fathers, handmade rugs, digital media and historical “memorabilia”. From the founding of the Camel Corp, to the ghostly camel’s humble death in the farmer’s garden, each work adds new details to the exhibition’s overarching narrative. The story of Fantasia Colorado is tragic and humorous, and this project aims to perpetuate the myth, clarify the history and to point to the moments when it is most difficult to untangle the two. The works themselves do not seek to simply illustrate the story, but to add elements of complication.
History is often retold in ways that favor the narrator, just as every ghost story needs a monster. In researching the legend and the history, the artists have uncovered multiple versions of each. Presenting the story without bias, Belleau and Churchill ask the viewer to decipher the truth for themselves.