Ant Farm’s artistic antics provide multiple entries into the history of art. 

a. Ant Farm’s artistic antics provide multiple entries into the history of art. For example, the group references Marcel Duchamp who coined the term ‘ready-made’ in 1915 to describe a work of art that consisted of a common object that had not been materially altered. The ready-made entitled Fountain (1917), for example, is a standard urinal that Duchamp exhibited resting on its side. In a similar manner, Ant Farm selected Cadillac cars and installed them half-buried in a Texas field.

The contrast is equally significant. Duchamp explains his intentions when he states, “A point which I want very much to establish is that the choice of these ‘ready-mades’ was never dictated by aesthetic delectation. This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste… in fact a complete anesthesia.”1 Cadillac Ranch, in contrast, demonstrates that Ant Farm’s use of the ready-made diverged greatly from Duchamp’s original intention. Ant Farm actually sought the ‘aesthetic delectation’ that Duchamp disdained. Chip Lord, a member of Ant Farm explains, “The best ready-mades bring a certain kind of cultural baggage.”2 Thus, instead of ‘visual indifference’, Cadillac cars were chosen because they serve as powerful symbols of a culture in which luxury products confer status, not good deeds or useful skills. One might imagine how the theme of Ant Farm’s use of ready-made vehicles would have changed if they had selected a Volkswagen van or a converted school bus. These vehicles were popular in the 70s. The cultural baggage they carried embodied the counter-culture values of Hippies: communal living, sexual liberation, mind-altering drugs, utopian ideals, free speech, and a do-it-yourself ethos.

The following ready-mades all take the form of vehicles: HeHe’s toy car in Toy Emissions; Simon Starling’s bicycle in Tabernas Desert Run; and Tavares Strachan’s spacecraft in Orthostatic Tolerance: It Might Not Be Such a Bad Idea if I Never Went Home. None of these ready-mades conform to Duchamp‚Äôs use of the ready-made to assert the indifference of ‘anesthesia’. Explain how their ‘cultural baggage’ provides commentary related to eco art themes.

b. Another historic entry point considers the role Ant Farm played in establishing collaboration as an alternative to the prevailing definition of an artist as a lone genius. This historic trajectory begins in 1916 when anti war artists exiled to Zurich (Hans Arp, Trsitan Tzara, Hans Richter, Hugo Ball, etc.) founded Dada and gave performances expressing their opposition to the war.

c. The history of collaboration also includes the parlor game, Exquisite Corpse that generated collaborative drawings; it fulfilled the mandates of the Surrealist Manifesto published in 1924. Collaboration appears again when Art and Language and Gilbert and George both became established in 1968. The recent upsurge of collaborative groups is reflected in this book: Critical Art Ensemble, HeHe, Beehive Collective, Tissue Culture & Art Project. Note that these groups are not known according to the artists’ names. Their members’ anonymity reveals that they privilege group identity over individual ambitions. Collaboration is particularly pertinent to eco art because the ‘ego’ dissolves when individuals adopt ‘eco’ centric modes of conduct. Furthermore, collaborators who contribute diverse talents and training are required to address environmental conditions and consequences, typically described by the words ‘complex’ and ‘multiple’. Finally, as the condition of the planet’s waters, air, soils, and populations grows in significance, self-expression in art diminishes as problem-solving increases.

Marcel Duchamp, ‘Apropos of Ready Mades, 1961’, Duchamp’s lecture at the MoMA museum, New York, 109 October 1961; in ‘Art and Artists 1’, July 1966: 47
2 Chip Lord quoted in Ant Farm 1968=1978, University of California Press, 2004, p 72

Images Related to Ant Farm

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Hans Richter, Zurich, 1917

Art & Language, 10 Posters, 1975-77

Gilbert & George, The Singing Sculpture, 1973