[EI] Ant Farm – Media Burn (1975)

About Ant Farm:

Ant Farm is a collective of radical architects who were also video, performance, and installation artists but, above all, visionaries and cultural commentators. They are called ‘Ant Farm’ because it was the perfect metaphor to describe them – they were an active underground architecture group and collectivity was a way of life for them.


Media Burn (1975):

Media Burn (1975)

Image source: Lynch, E. (2018). KQED Arts Looks at San Francisco’s Vibrant Video Art Movement of the 1970s. [online] Laughing Squid. Available at: https://laughingsquid.com/kqed-arts-looks-at-san-franciscos-vibrant-video-art-movement-of-the-1970s/ [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].

Media Burn (1975) was one of their most iconic works. It was not only a spectacular performance that consisted of many elaborate components, it also carried a media critique on the television culture back then.

“[Media Burn was a] visual manifesto of the early alternative video movement, an emblem of an oppositional and irreverent stance against the political and cultural imperatives promoted by television, and the passivity of TV viewing”

For this performance, Ant Farm staged an explosive collision of two of America’s most iconic symbols – the automobile and television, whereby two “artist dummies” dressed as astronauts “drove” a customized 1959 Cadillac renamed the Phantom Dream Car at full speed into a wall of flaming television sets.


Featuring the artist president, an impersonator of John F. Kennedy

Image source: Stretcher.org. (2018). Stretcher | Features | Tunneling Through the Wasteland: Ant Farm Video. [online] Available at: http://www.stretcher.org/features/tunneling_through_the_wastelandant_farm_video/ [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].

The way this performance was presented was like a parody of the news coverage of a space launch. Even though it was a fictitious event, the way it was presented made it appear to be non-fictitious. Members of the Ant Farm group were interviewed in a melodramatic manner. Since the event took place on the July 4th, Ant Farm felt that a politician had to speak at the event. Hence they impersonated John F. Kennedy and delivered an inspirational but nonsensical speech. In Randall Packer’s interview with Chip Lord, Chip Lord mentioned that this was an expanding project also had different components that made it a realistic event. For example, souvenir booklets and a logo were designed specifically for this event. Audience participated by attending this event and giving their opinions on it when interviewed. Overall, this performance was thorough and well-delivered in terms of performance and message.


My Thoughts:

“The group’s wide-ranging and imaginative interests could not be satisfied within a single discipline, and from the beginning they explored the expressive potential of video and performance.”

– Constance M. Lewallen, Still Subversive After all These Years

I highly respect Ant Farm because even though they were trained as architects, they went against the grain and explored beyond architecture, delving into performance, video and art. They encourage us to be multi-disciplinary artists, looking beyond our current skillsets and exploring other fields. Their works are packed with meaning too because they could fuse different mediums together to form an artwork that contains social commentary. Media Burn being a good example. They proved that artists have the power to allow their voices to be heard in society by presenting thought-provoking ideas that would ultimately lead to change.


A page from Inflato Cookbook

Image source: Curbed. (2018). More Than Hot Air: The Lasting Impact of Inflatable Architecture. [online] Available at: https://www.curbed.com/2016/1/21/10844774/inflatable-architecture-geodesic-dome-design-legacy [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].

Ant Farm also utilized the concept of open source with their publication called ‘Inflato Cookbook’. They had put together a guide for people to make their own inflatables since there was a demand for it. The cookbook was sold for $3 and can be assessed online today. Ant Farm was not interested in making a huge profit out of the cookbook, but they were more interested in sharing their ideas because many were curious about them. As a group, Ant Farm was way ahead of their time because the ‘Inflato Cookbook’ was contemporary and still relevant today. All these accomplishments could only be achieved as a collective and not individually, proving that when artists choose to DIWO, they can achieve much more than they DIY.

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