Ant Farm

I am currently reading Michael Sorkin’s, All Over the Map Writings on Buildings and Cities (2011), and while I will be talking about it in a future blog, I wanted to highlight Ant Farm, an architectural collective that Sorkin has great admiration for. Ant Farm, a group of radical architects, who were influenced by visionary architectural collectives like Archigram and Superstudio and Buckminster Fuller, emerged in 1968 and disbanded in 1978 when a fire destroyed their San Francisco studio. Sorkin writes that Ant Farm “set the agenda for contemporary research in environmentalism, advanced building technologies, electronic globalization, public art and space and post-industrial flows.” I must admit that I wasn’t that familiar with Ant Farm’s practice but after reading Sorkin’s essay, “Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, Cars, Dolphins, and Architecture” my interest for this collective was recaptured. Chip Lord and Doug Michels were founding members of the collective and it expanded to include Curtis Schreier, Douglas Hurr and Hudsen Marquez.

Ant Farm were interested in alternative architecture, environmental design practices, the spectacle of mass media, and American kitsch culture. Unlike, other visionary architectural collectives, Ant Farm used counter information strategies such as performance, video and media to communicate their social and political views of American culture. Ant Farm’s work challenged the symbols and ideologies of post-war America and used automobiles, particularly Cadillacs, and television as the epitome symbols of American culture. Their work revealed the relationships between environmental degradation and mass industry, questioned the role of mass media and consumerism and demonstrated the use of advanced technologies.

In 1971, they took to the road with their Media Van, a customized van that they turned into a mobile studio while they toured the country to give talks and organize public happenings.

The group built the House of the Century 1972-2072 in 1972 as a weekend house for Marilyn and Alvin Lubetkin.

Cadillac Ranch is their most well known work. In 1974, Ant Farm was invited by patron Stanley Marsh to create an installation on his property near Amarillo, TX.  Fascinated with Cadillacs, Ant Farm decided to create a graveyard by burying ten cars made between 1949 and 1964 face down in the dirt.

Media Burn (1975) is a video piece depicting a futuristic space Cadillac crashing through a wall of televisions.

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10 responses to “Ant Farm

  1. This is more of a question that a comment. I lived and worked in San Francisco from 1973 to 1977. I attended many events at the Ant Farm before it burned down. I have pretty clear recollections of Cadillac Ranch and do not recall the participation of Stanley Marsh. Did he merely provide the site or was he involved in the conceptualization prior to 1978?

    • In my research, Stanley Marsh commissioned the work and provided the land but has not been attributed to the conception of the work. In my personal experience with commissioned work, the ‘commissioner’ can have final approval of the design or suggest what they would envision for the site and might even give artists parameters but I would not define this relationship as collaborative, unless of course it has been agreed by both parties.

      • Thanks so much. I am currently working on a piece that involves all parties, and much more, for better or worse.

      • I’ll see how it turns out. You can see my work at howardsaunders.org. The current series is the link on top of the projects: Care and Feeding of an Alter Ego. There is also a blog called AxeMan Speaks on wordpress.

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