Ant Farm, an avant garde video arts group founded in 1968 by Chip Lord and Doug Hall, is now a highly acknowledged collective of creatives that embrace the art of destruction (according to Patricia Mellencamp in her Journal of Film and Video).
One of the collective’s destructive artworks titled Media Burn (1975) is a performance that touches on the representative nature of the media. The artwork consists of crashing a “Phantom Dream Car” (a modified convertible) through a pyramid of televisions.
Doug Hall plays John F. Kennedy in this piece, whereby he touched on the flaws of media in society: ‘What has gone wrong with America is not a random visitation of fate. It is the result of forces that have assumed control of the American system…These forces are: militarism, monopoly, and the mass media…Mass media monopolies control people by their control of information… And who can deny that we are nation addicted to television and the constant flow of media? And not a few of us are frustrated by this addiction. Now I ask you, my fellow Americans: Haven’t you ever wanted to put your foot through your television screen?’
This is relevant to the notions of the hypodermic needle theory in the mass media, a controversial topic left helpless for decades. The ability of the media to inject ideas in to the viewer’s head, its ability to make ideas portrayed seem like the truth is one concept that is played out in this piece.
Chip Lord mentioned in an interview with Randall Packer that the televised image of John F. Kennedy as the first televised tragedy was one of impact and epiphany, since it was one of the first televised image of the bad side of reality. This inspired his work and heavy sentiments towards this side of the media. The destruction of the televisions is acts as a kind of anti-art, a protest. The destruction of a concept can be seen as a rebellious statement, and could perhaps be one of the defining characteristics in such a piece. It is a powerful way to show the anti motion against the lack of media literacy.
One thought on “Media Burn and the Art of Destruction”
Shu, you touched on a very important concept: the ability of the media to insert ideas into public narrative. It is this idea that the media shapes the cultural narrative that Ant Farm was challenging, in a symbolic and destructive gesture. I think it would be worth discussing this idea because the media plays such an important role in our lives no matter the country or the culture we live in. Now it doesn’t mean we have to destroy the media (what TRUMP is trying to do), but rather, we need to be aware of the media and its effects. I think that what would have been helpful in your critique of Media Burn is to also discuss its staging, the way in which it used the trappings of the media, the political speech, the flags, and the astronaut-like depiction of the car navigation, to fully capture the meaning and significance of Media Burn as a media spectacle. It is through the staging of the spectacle that they aimed their critique squarely into the media space.