Ant Farm 1968 – 1978

Ant Farm 1968 – 1978

January 21 through April 26, 2004

The first major exhibition to explore the renegade and
radical vision of '70s art and architecture group Ant Farm

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is proud to present the first retrospective exhibition of Ant Farm, the collaborative, experimental art and architecture group founded in 1968 by architects Chip Lord and Doug Michels, who were later joined by Curtis Schreier. Featuring more than 200 objects, including photographs, drawings, and collages, as well as important documentary materials, videotapes, and a recreation of an inflatable structure, Ant Farm 1968 – 1978 captures the revolutionary spirit of the collective's work, which ranged from architecture and video art to performance and installation. Ant Farm was dedicated to finding alternatives to mainstream architectural practice that were more consistent with the radical spirit of the time. Their projects were based in architecture but also encompassed video, performance, and sculpture. Among their most widely known works are the iconic Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, conceived by Lord, Michels, and Hudson Marquez, and the spectacular performance Media Burn.

Ant Farm 1968 – 1978 is co-curated by Senior Curator for Exhibitions Constance Lewallen and Steve Seid, Assistant Curator for Video at the Pacific Film Archive. After its presentation in Berkeley the exhibition will travel to Santa Monica Museum of Art (July 2 through August 14, 2004); University of Pennsylvania, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (September 10 through December 12, 2004); University of Houston, Blaffer Art Gallery (January 15 through March 13, 2005); ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie), Karlsruhe, Germany (April 30 through July 24, 2005); and Yale University School of Architecture Gallery (August 29 through November 4, 2005).

Ant Farm saw themselves as part of the cultural underground, embracing the social rebelliousness of the late '60s and '70s and the related lifestyle of communal living, sexual liberation, mind-altering drugs, and utopian ideals. In the early years of their collaboration, Ant Farm set out to create an alternative architecture suited to a nomadic lifestyle. Inspired by such visionaries as Buckminster Fuller and Paolo Solari, as well as utopian European architecture groups such as Archigram, Ant Farm concentrated on developing giant inflatable structures, easy and cheap to build and transport and symbolic of their opposition to the mainstream Brutalist architecture of the 1960s. In 1971 they set out on a five-month tour of colleges and universities, unrolling and inflating their ICE 9 inflatable at each stop. Such interactive events-one of which took place in UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza-were closer to happenings than to architectural demonstrations.

During the 1970s Ant Farm completed several successful architectural commissions, including the Newman Media Studio and their award-winning House of the Century in Texas. They proposed prescient projects such as Freedomland, a shopping mall for teenagers; Convention City, a state-of-the-art facility for political conventions; and The Dolphin Embassy, an Australia-based sea station where man and dolphin could communicate.

Ant Farm's vision broadened as they incorporated other media into their strategic forays. Soon their architectural projects were joined by large-scale performances that critiqued the virtual architecture of image, icon, and power. In 1975, in perhaps their most celebrated events, Schreier and Michels drove the Phantom Dream Car-a modified 1959 Cadillac Biarritz-at full speed through a pyramid of flaming TVs. This remarkable performance, titled Media Burn, was a literal collision of two American icons-the car and the television set-and was widely covered on TV news. For another video performance Ant Farm collaborated with T.R. Uthco (San Francisco artists Doug Hall, Diane Andrews Hall, and Jody Procter) to create The Eternal Frame, a reenactment of the Kennedy assassination, with Hall as the "Artist-President," Michels as Jackie, and Procter as the Secret Service Agent. The Eternal Frame-considered a masterpiece of early video-is the quintessential comment on the replacement of real experience and memory with a mass-media version, etched into the collective consciousness from countless TV viewings.

These tapes are eclipsed only by that most memorable of public provocations, Cadillac Ranch. Commissioned by Stanley Marsh 3, Ant Farm members Lord, Michels, and Marquez partially buried ten Cadillacs nose down in a wheat field on Marsh's ranch to create this evocative public sculpture-at once a celebration of the Cadillac tailfin and a critique of Detroit's practice of planned obsolescence. Cadillac Ranch has been celebrated in song by Bruce Springsteen, and appropriated with or without permission by dozens of companies who have used the ten tailfins basking nose-down in the sun to advertise everything from cars to auto-insurance.

Ant Farm officially disbanded in 1978 after a fire in their San Francisco studio destroyed much of their work. Fortunately, most of the photographic documentation and videotapes survived, and this, along with a wide range of Ant Farm materials-including the Phantom Dream Car, which will be installed in the lobby of the museum, and a re-created inflatable-will form the core of the exhibition. A comprehensive catalogue, published by UC Press, will accompany the exhibition. It includes essays by Caroline Maniaque, Michael Sorkin, Steve Seid, a conversation among Constance Lewallen, Chip Lord, Doug Michels, and Curtis Schreier, an Ant Farm-designed timeline, and a reprint of Lord's essay on American car culture, Automerica.

Public Programs
Curator's talk
Constance Lewallen, Thursday, January 22, 12:15 p.m.
Gallery 2
From the Inflatocookbook to Citizen's Time Capsule, House of the Century to CARmen…The Auto Opera, Constance Lewallen guides visitors through the exhibition of Ant Farm's projects and delves into their sources of inspiration.

Panel Discussion
Ant Farm Underground: Radical Architecture, Video, and Performance
Sunday, February 29, 3 p.m.
Museum Theater
Anne Walsh, professor of art practice, UC Berkeley; Jeff Kelley, critic, curator, and lecturer in art practice, UC Berkeley; Patricia Mellencamp, emeritus professor of art history, University of Wisconsin; Adele Santos, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, M.I.T.
"Ant Farm presented a wonderful alternative model where you can love cars and critique them, where the assassination of JFK can be deconstructed, celebrated, and shuddered at, where private passions and public issues hit a kind of merge lane," cultural critic Rebecca Solnit has said. Examining Ant Farm's visionary projects and performances, this program will explore the group's legacy and the enduring effects of their work on the Conceptual art scene. Exhibition co-curator Constance Lewallen will moderate the discussion between four scholars and thinkers who offer distinct lenses on the work of Ant Farm. This program is supported by the Consortium for the Arts at UC Berkeley.

Guided tours
Guided tours of Ant Farm 1968 – 1978 are offered on Thursdays at 12:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. by UC Berkeley graduate students from the Departments of Art Practice, Architecture, and History of Art.

Screenings at the PFA Theater
They Might Be Giants
Wednesday January 21, 7:30 p. m.
Chip Lord and Hudson Marquez in Person. Introduction by Patricia Mellencamp, University of Wisconsin.
Early on, the renegade architectural collective Ant Farm turned its attention to a new form for habitation, the great mediascape. Melding exuberant spectacle, historical restagings, and guerrilla tactics, they created iconoclastic videoworks that captured America's preoccupation with power, mobility, and media. The public sculpture Cadillac Ranch condensed the complexities of autonomy and obsolescence into a single potent image, the Cadillac impaled in the Texas prairie. The Cadillac Ranch Show (1974/1994), its video manifestation, establishes the sculpture as a true roadside attraction. On July 4, 1975, Ant Farm jump-started Media Burn (1975) with a momentous performance in which a customized 1959 Cadillac is driven through a wall of burning TV sets. Initiated by the insightful words of the "Artist-President," played by Doug Hall, Media Burn showed that the collision of two American icons, TV and the automobile, could create a self-propelled image. Ant Farm daringly traveled to Dallas to take on that most traumatic of American images, the Kennedy assassination. Restaging the Zapruder footage on the original site, The Eternal Frame (1975) tracks the trajectory of tragic death to image immortality. The uncanny prescience of Ant Farm's best-known works ironically transformed their charged critiques into yet another order of icon.

The Eternal Eternal Frame
Wednesday, March 17, 7:30 p.m.
Works by Ant Farm, Bruce Conner, Keith Sanborn, Zoran Naskovski, Andy Warhol, and others.
Chip Lord in Person. Introduction by Marita Sturken, University of Southern California.
Perhaps only images of the World Trade Center toppling can rival the Zapruder footage of John F. Kennedy's assassination for all-American trauma. Originally released as still images, the unintentional outcome of the Zapruder film was the notion that history can hide inside the individual frame, lurk within the murky emulsion. A spate of films and videotapes by artists have emerged over the last four decades each seeking their own singular truth of that infamous act. But these works do not try to unravel the conspiracy, rather they look at how tragedy is transformed through image, and how cultural memory is condensed, then relegated to granulation and movement. In tribute to Ant Farm's momentous The Eternal Frame (1975), we delve into a dark day remembered through light.

Plus the Bay Area premiere of Andy Warhol's Since (1966), an unfinished film about the Kennedy assassination and the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, in which Ondine plays LBJ. The cast also includes Ingrid Superstar (Lady Bird), Mary Woronov (Jack Kennedy), Susan Bottomly (Jackie Kennedy), Ronnie Cutrone (Ruby), Gerard Malanga, and Billy Name.

Marita Sturken is an Associate Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. Sturken is the author of both Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering (University of California Press) and Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (Oxford University Press).

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog, published by BAM/PFA and University of California Press, by Constance Lewallen and Steve Seid, with original essays by Michael Sorkin and Caroline Maniaque; an interview with Ant Farmers Chip Lord, Doug Michels, and Curtis Schreier; an update of Chip Lord's AUTOMERICA; and new artwork by Ant Farm ($29.95 paperback; $60 hardcover). Call the Museum Store at (510) 642-1475 or visit us online at

Posted by admin on December 22, 2014