Classic Ant Farm Videos At Glasgow Lighthouse Exhibition

By Fern Ross | 22 March 2006
a drawing of an experimental car with media burn written across the top

© Media Burn

Fern Ross discovers a small but entertaining display that recalls some of the first - and best interventionist art - at Glasgow's Lighthouse.

Have you ever wanted to put your foot through your television screen? In a desperate attempt to halt a nation addicted to the evil box and constant flow of media, renegade architectural collective Ant Farm have done this, quite literally…and then some.

Running until April 2 2006 at Glasgow’s Lighthouse, The Ant Farm 1968–1978 is a collection of film screenings capturing the groundbreaking interventions created by the experimental group.

Gathered together for the first time, the exhibition is a grouping of the collectives’ most renowned work. Premiered at the University of Carolina, Berkeley in 2004, the films are on display in a specially-built unit in the Lighthouse’s intimate first floor Review Gallery.

Lucy McEachan, exhibitions manager, said: “It’s been really popular, with people of all generations.”

“There is a larger exhibition of Ant Farm on tour at the moment created by the University of California, Berkley in 2004. It was too big to accommodate in our gallery here, but we were so excited about the whole concept that we decided to show the films.”

a photograph of two seated women watching a bank of TV screens

Watch out girls... you might get media burn. © Fern Ross/24 Hour Museum

Founded by freshly graduated architects Chip Lord and Doug Michels in 1968, the Ant Farm were a radical architecture and design group who were also talented video, performance and installation artists.

Viewing themselves as part of the late 60s and 70s cultural underground – hence the name – Ant Farm embraced the social rebelliousness of the period and the associated lifestyle of communal living, reflecting the counterculture ethos of pooling talent and resources.

Early on in their work, the collective turned its attention to mass media; re-staging historical events and reactive stunts that commented on America’s preoccupation with power, mobility and media.

The films on show capture nine of their most famous interventions, all captured on a Sony Portapak video camera, including the infamous Media Burn (1975), The Cadillac Ranch Show (1974/1980) and The Eternal Frame (1975) among others.

Staged on July 4, 1975 and set in the parking lot of San Francisco’s Cow Palace, Media Burn showed members of the collective, dressed up like astronauts, crawl into the Phantom Dream Car – a customized 1959 Cadillac El Dorado Biarritz complete with interior video communication before driving it full speed right through a pyramid of flaming TVs.

A literal collision of two American icons – the car and the television – Media Burn was spectacular performance, widely covered on TV news and later distributed on videotape, a move that demonstrated the collective’s ability to exploit the very medium they attacked.

a photograph of two seated women watching a bank of TV screens

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Media Burn! © Fern Ross/24 Hour Museum

The Eternal Frame on the other hand, is a videotaped re-enactment of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the first televised American tragedy.

Considered a masterpiece of modern video, it is an acute observation of the replacement of real experience and memory with a mass-media version, etched into the collective memory through a constant stream of televised images.

1974’s Cadillac Ranch, a work commissioned by Stanley Marsh the Third, sees Ant Farm members Lord and Michels partially bury ten Cadillacs nose down in a wheat field on Marsh’s ranch.

One of the best known pieces of public art in America, it is viewed by an estimated 280,000 people each year as they cruise down the infamous Route 66 that stretches alongside it.

The collective officially disbanded in 1978 after a fire in their San Francisco studio destroyed much of their work. Fortunately, most of the videotapes and photographs that documented the events survived.

Much of this documentation is on display at the Lighthouse, along with a humorous timeline designed by the artists that provides a comprehensive overview of their decade-long existence. It makes for a unique and thought-provoking experience.

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