Ant Farm 1968–1978
January 21, 2004 - April 25, 2004
If there's one element of architecture the young might rightfully resent, it's the utter permanence of it all. Not only fixed in place, architecture is fixed in time, an implicit monument to the authority and allure of a moment, by definition, gone by. This fixity was the very thing that, in 1968, the young architects collectively known as Ant Farm would resist.
Chip Lord, Doug Michels, and Curtis Schreier, soon to be joined by Hudson Marquez, set out to challenge given notions of architectural practice, finding impermanence and mobility to be tantalizing alternatives. Ant Farm's earliest projects were inflatable structures, air-filled “pillows,” that encompassed vast volume without substance. Instant buildings, the inflatables served as transitory settings for happenings that coaxed spontaneity from the gathered participants.
Even when Ant Farm's buildings did take root, they generally augured the future, like House of the Century, a pad better suited for the moon; Freedomland, a teen-oriented mall combining shopping ops with full-service fantasy; or the submersive Dolphin Embassy, an aquatic environment for communing with those mindful mammals.
Impermanence sometimes found tribute in its opposite. Throughout the seventies, Ant Farm signed, sealed, and delivered a number of sardonic time capsules. Registering the fleeting nature of pop-culture ideas, these time pieces, entombed in everything from a dysfunctional fridge to an Oldsmobile station wagon, were designed for exhumation in the near future.
But it was in pursuit of mobility that Ant Farm really took off. More than any other single image, the automobile, with its contradictory notions of carefree adventure and fine-tooled obsolescence, seemed to embody Ant Farm's architecture of transience. These gas-guzzling icons found their way into several of the group's most wry, subversive, and unforgettable works.
A herd of autos impaled in the Texas prairie, Cadillac Ranch (1974) was a sly public paean to the tailfin that propelled itself into a full-blown roadside attraction. The Cadillac Ranch Show (1974), a twisted infomercial for the piece, has art patron Stanley Marsh 3 declaring, “They say they're artists. I say they're Cadillac lovers.” Ant Farm intuitively understood mobility to be the promise of boundless liberty. But they also recognized that this promise had become a gesture of frustrated movement.
Another Caddie, grotesquely customized as the Phantom Dream Car, screams through Media Burn (1975), a spectacular performance staged specifically to be recorded, then circulated as a loose-canonical image. In this videowork, the Dream Car collides with a pyramid of burning TV sets, creating the incendiary fusion of mobility and evanescence. A sound bite from Doug Hall, playing the Artist-President, prophesies, “The world may never understand what was done here today, but the images created here shall never be forgotten.”
This great revelation—that the bricks and mortar of reality had been replaced by their flimsy image—also informs Ant Farm's most daring enterprise, The Eternal Frame (1975). Collaborating with T.R. Uthco (Doug Hall, Diane Andrews Hall, and Jody Procter), they headed to Dallas with a Lincoln limo in tow, ready to take on the most famous image of the twentieth century, the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Restaging the notorious Zapruder footage, The Eternal Frame encapsulated the loss of the real. In the cultural imaginary, death and tragedy, even power, had left the building, only to be swapped for an insubstantial substitute—the image, repeated again and again.
Ironically, Ant Farm's clever and far-reaching lambasting of the transitory aspects of culture left them with a lasting legacy—now gathered for the first time in a museum retrospective which, following Berkeley, travels to five other museums in the U.S. and Germany.
Steve Seid, PFA Video Curator
The catalog and exhibition have also been made possible by The Judith Rothschild Foundation, in recognition of Doug Michels; the National Endowment for the Arts; Rena Bransten; Marilyn Oshman; the Consortium for the Arts at UC Berkeley; the Windfall Foundation; and Joan Roebuck. Special thanks to Robert and Caroline Michels.
Ant Farm 1968–1978 is organized by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and is cosponsored by the College of Environmental Design and Department of Architecture.
During 2004 and 2005, Ant Farm 1968–1978 will tour to the Santa Monica Museum of Art; University of Pennsylvania, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston; ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie), Karlsruhe, Germany; and the Yale University School of Architecture Gallery.