Living Archive 7: Ant Farm
Originally published in Art on Paper, May/June 2008
The experimental collective Ant Farm is renowned for their 1970s video and performance pieces (Media Burn and The Eternal Frame), yet their earlier, architectural works — just like the fleet of Cadillac hoods they once submerged beneath the Texas horizon — have remained largely out of sight. In Living Archive 7: Ant Farm, Felicity D. Scott excavates these chapters from their history and positions them in relationship to another historic event: the Apollo 11 landing of July 21, 1969. As Scott writes, the landing led some to believe that "through a new type of architecture one could also experience new types of trips, other 'launchings' into space and time," a notion that is encapsulated in Ant Farm's manifesto No. 853, Allegorical Time Warp:
"MCLUHAN'S MESSAGE, MEDIUM RARE
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE THE LAG
IN OUTOOK AND CONSCIOUSNESS TO WHIPLASH
FITTING THINKING/IDEAS TO TECHNOLOGICAL CAPABILITIES."
Casting itself alternately as infoshop, academic study, drug-addled chapbook, and fevered archive of Ant Farmabilia, Scott's text is itself tricky to pin down. It is less a book than an event: a kinetic collage that, at times, teeters on the brink of information overload.
Luckily, Scott's agile prose gives us our bearings in the ephemera and breathes life into the archive. She positions Ant Farm's infancy within the tuned-in, dropped-out, avowedly acid-driven milieus of countercultural Houston and San Francisco, where young architects Chip Lord and Doug Michaels founded the group as a "platform of educational reform" in 1968. What follows is a hallucinatory trail of architectural engagement with rock concert ethos (riffing off Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes to construct their own inflatable variety at the Free Concert at Altamont Speedway in 1969), psychedelic drugs, pedagogic experimentation, environmentalism, and rapid technological change.
A 120 page, full-color timeline of plans, drawings, and diagrams for built and imagined works, assembled by Lord and Michaels in the 1970s and published in full for the first time here, visually narrates the group's decade long trajectory. Notably, excerpts and page reproductions from self-published books such as the Inflatocookbook offer wacky, bubble lettered and pencil-drawn do-it-yourself directions for the creation of inflatable architecture that recall Archigram's "instant city."