New York

View of “Ant Farm and LST,” 2016. Center: LST, Ant Farm Media Van v.08 [Time Capsule], 2008–. Inflatable enclosure: LST, ICE⎽9, 2016. Photo: Andrew Romer.

View of “Ant Farm and LST,” 2016. Center: LST, Ant Farm Media Van v.08 [Time Capsule], 2008–. Inflatable enclosure: LST, ICE⎽9, 2016. Photo: Andrew Romer.

Ant Farm and LST

Pioneer Works

View of “Ant Farm and LST,” 2016. Center: LST, Ant Farm Media Van v.08 [Time Capsule], 2008–. Inflatable enclosure: LST, ICE⎽9, 2016. Photo: Andrew Romer.

One way to think of Ant Farm, the subject of a recent exhibition at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, is as the art-world equivalent of an underground music act. They were founded in San Francisco in 1968, against the backdrop of psychedelic counterculture. Despite their impressive back catalogue, they are remembered mainly for two smash hits—Cadillac Ranch, 1974, and Media Burn, 1975. And like so many bands, they have recently reunited, with a slightly different lineup. Back in the day, the group had three core members—Chip Lord, Doug Michels, and Curtis Schreier. In 2003, Michels, who had served as Ant Farm’s unofficial spokesman, died tragically while hiking in Australia, and the group reformed as LST in 2007, assuming an acronym that marks the involvement of Lord and Schreier, as well as that of the younger artist and architect Bruce Tomb.

Ant Farm made architecture, performances, and videos in an experimental idiom that variously evoked Buckminster Fuller, Archigram, and Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog—which once used one of the group’s inflatables as a production office. A unifying theme was futurology, which they approached in a spirit of allegorical critique. The Pioneer Works show included fascinating documentary material from this period, drawn from the group’s obsessively kept archive, and emphasized one of the least-known aspects of their oeuvre: a series of time capsules. Among the earliest of these was Time Capsule 1972–1984, a refrigerator containing “items unique to the early seventies,” including a selection of magazines, marijuana, and “UN-natural foods.” Aerosol Arsenal, 1975, reflected then-new revelations about the depletion of the ozone layer. Citizens Time Capsule, from the same year, was a 1968 Oldsmobile filled with donated items—today we would call them crowdsourced—and buried at Artpark in Lewiston, New York.

Ant Farm stipulated the dates on which their time capsules were to be unsealed, but following the dissolution of the group in 1978, these plans went awry. Time Capsule 1972–1984 was meant to be opened in the portentous year of 1984, but the “big gooey blob of consumer crap”contained within (to quote Michels) did not see the light of day until 2000. Citizens Time Capsule, intended to be unearthed in 2000, still lies underground. This errant temporality is well captured at Pioneer Works by a wall-mounted timeline devised by Liz Flyntz, who curated the exhibition with Gabriel Florenz. (In her day job, Flyntz is an information architect).

The star attraction of the exhibition was a work by LST: Ant Farm Media Van v.08 [Time Capsule], 2008–. The work was itself a complex temporal stratigraphy, based on a customized van that Ant Farm used to drive around America, an expression of their theory of total architectural mobility. A screen in the back continuously played a compilation of the group’s old videos. But the vehicle was also wired for the present. If you crawled inside and plugged your smartphone into a spidery port called the HUQQUH, 2008– (the palindromic name is suggestive of a communal toke), it grabbed a random picture from your library, to be preserved until . . . well, we’ll see.

LST originally created the Media Van v.08 for a presentation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2008. They have been collecting people’s pictures with it ever since, in the process capturing rapid changes in personal technology. They claim that this was its last presentation. If so, the piece certainly went out in style. It was sheathed in a spectacular inflatable, recalling the “soft pneumatic tribal playgrounds”made by the group in its early days, and could be entered through a plastic “birth canal.”

The show was a trip right back to the 1960s, but could only have been pulled off with the logistical support of Pioneer Works. Founded four years ago by artist Dustin Yellin, the organization—which has been expanding rapidly through its 25,000-square-foot site (originally a machine-building factory)—seeks to foster interdisciplinary collaboration among fields ranging from visual art and music to engineering and science. Florenz, who also serves as the artistic director at Pioneer Works, describes Ant Farm as an important precedent for this cross-platform activity: They were “interdisciplinary before interdisciplinary became a contemporary catchphrase.” That’s certainly true, and while the parallel is not exact—the hyper-productive, postindustrial enormity of Pioneer Works is quite unlike Ant Farm’s gleeful impracticality—the contrast itself is worth pondering. It is just the sort of cultural feedback loop that Ant Farm has always thrived on: The avant-garde gestures of the past have become the entrepreneurial strategies of today.

Glenn Adamson