January 19, 2004
Film professors revolutionary past to be
featured in Berkeley Art Museum retrospective and new DVD
By Scott Rappaport
Years before he joined the faculty at UCSC, Chip Lord was a member of
the Ant Farm, a groundbreaking, experimental art and architecture collective
he founded in 1968 with fellow architect Doug Michels.
|Possibly the best-known public
artwork in the country, the Ant Farms Cadillac Ranch
is seen by an estimated 280,000 people each year.
Photo: Copyright Ant Farm
|Bruce Springsteen is shown here
in a rare photo racing through the Ant Farms Cadillac Ranch,
the subject of his popular 1980 song. Photo
courtesy of Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Dedicated to finding alternatives to mainstream architectural practice,
the Ant Farm combined video, performance, and sculptureachieving
widespread notoriety in the mid 70s for such projects as the Cadillac
Ranch public art installation in Texas, and the spectacular performance
art event Media Burn.
The first major exhibition to explore the history of this influential,
renegade collective will be presented at the University of California,
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive from January 21 through
April 26. Ant Farm 1968-1978 will feature more than 200 objects,
including photographs, drawings, collages, videotapes, documentary materials,
and a re-creation of an inflatable structure built by the visionary
It was a very different time, Lord recalled. I graduated
from Tulane School of Architecture in 1968 and there was revolution
in the air. There was the Vietnam War, student protests, student unrest
didnt want to go into the corporate architectural world at all,
and that was our motivation for starting the Ant Farm.
Inspired by such creative thinkers as Buckminster Fuller and Paulo
Soleri, the Ant Farm collective spent its early years creating an alternative
architecture designed for a nomadic lifestyle. They build giant inflatable
structurescheap and easy to assemblein opposition to the
mainstream Brutalist architecture of the 60s that emphasized permanent
reinforced concrete. This led to The Truckstop Network, a freewheeling
1970 tour of colleges and universities in the Ant Farms Media
Van, which was equipped with a video portapack, as well as an
Eisenhower-era trailer, complete with an inflatable solar-heated shower
unit. We brought an interest in high technology to the nomadic
counterculture, Lord observed.
|UCSC Film and Digital Media Department chair Chip Lord cofounded
the Ant Farm after graduating from the Tulane School of Architecture
in 1968. Photo: Scott Rappaport
The Ant Farm completed a number of successful architectural commissions
in the early 70s, including the award-winning House of the Century
in Angleton, Texas. But the collective also spent time exploring the
potential power of video and performance art. This culminated in Media
Burn, a dazzling event (captured on a widely distributed videotape)
that featured two collective members dressed like astronauts, who drove
a customized 1959 Cadillac El Doradooutfitted with interior video
communicationat full-speed through a pyramid of flaming TVs in
the parking lot of San Franciscos Cow Palace on July 4, 1975.
But perhaps the Ant Farms most famous endeavor was Cadillac
Ranch, the art installation along Route 66 (now Highway 40) in Amarillo,
Texas, that was immortalized in song by Bruce Springsteen. Commissioned
by Stanley Marsh 3, Lord and his Ant Farm partners, Michels and Hudson
Marquez, partially buried 10 Cadillacs nose down in a wheat field--both
celebrating the evolution of the Cadillacs tailfin and at the
same time mocking Detroit carmakers history of planned obsolescence.
Cadillac was the ultimate status symbol in America at that time,
Lord noted. It took four weeks to find all the carssome came from
junkyards, a few came from used-car lots. But it took less than five
days to bury them.
Within six to eight months, images of Cadillac Ranch had appeared
in People and Esquire magazines. Soon, articles began
popping up everywhere and people began to make pilgrimages, often scratching
their names in the paint of one of the cars. Over the past two decades,
the image of Cadillac Ranch has been usedwith or without
permissionby dozens of companies advertising everything from automobiles
and insurance to restaurants and computers. Possibly the best-known
public artwork in the country, Cadillac Ranch is seen by an estimated
280,000 people each year as they motor down the Texas highway.
Lord has been working for the past two years on a compilation DVD of
Ant Farm material to be distributed nationally. Partially funded by
UCSC research funds, the DVD is scheduled to be released on February
1 and will be distributed by Facets
Multi-Media. Lord noted that it would include Springsteens
celebratory song, Cadillac Ranch.
After Springsteen wrote the song, his record company called and
wanted to use a photo of Cadillac Ranch in the liner notes for his album
The River, Lord said. We ended up giving them a photo
for a very modest fee. So I recently wrote a letter to his manager asking
for permission to use the song in the DVD, and they gave it to us.
When a fire in their San Francisco studio destroyed much of their
work, the Ant Farm disbanded in 1978. Lord eventually moved on to become
an assistant professor of visual art at UC San Diego. He came to UCSC
in 1988 and is now chair of the Film and Digital Media Department.
It was a hard transition for me after the Ant Farm ended,
Lord noted. But I liked being in an environment of creative collaboration,
so teaching appealed to me. The Ant Farm was my graduate educationmy
M.F.A. equivalency was established through life experience, he
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