Farmers' Almanac 

Video-art pioneer Chip Lord and Ant Farm: buried Cadillacs and burned TV sets.

With his short grayish hair and reserved manner, Chip Lord hardly seems like a swinging '60s Summer-of-Love-in-San-Francisco type of guy. But that was the scene that lured him here in 1968, fresh out of Tulane with his degree in architecture.

He's lived in the Bay Area ever since, earning accolades as an innovative media artist, a founding father of the local video-arts scene, and professor and department chair of Film and Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz. Lord is probably best known, however, as an original member of Ant Farm, an anarchic art, media, and architecture collective that was active for about a decade beginning in 1968. Ant Farm was responsible for two very famous -- canonical, even -- pieces of American popular culture: Media Burn (1975), a video of a Cadillac crashing into a wall of burning TV sets, and Cadillac Ranch (1974), that row of Cadillacs buried nose-down off Route 66 in Texas.

Curious about the dos and don'ts of art-as-public-spectacle? Lord definitely has the inside scoop. You should, for instance, always put your name on a sign next to your roadside car sculpture, or else the next thousand photographers who drive by will rip it off in ads for everything from insurance to the Hard Rock Cafe. And you should always ask the fire department for a permit before building a TV-set bonfire in the Cow Palace parking lot. But if they refuse, you might get away with doing it anyway.

Lord has served as Ant Farm's unofficial archivist since the group disbanded in 1978 -- although there hasn't been a whole lot left to hang onto, since that was the year a massive fire hit its studio at San Francisco's Pier 40 and destroyed almost everything except its slides and videos. The group was always more interested in process than final product anyway, he recalls. A lot of contemporary art in the late 1960s and early '70s was opposed to the idea of art objects, so the Berkeley Art Museum's "Ant Farm 1968-1978," he says, will be very "true to the spirit of Ant Farm." The show opens on Wednesday, January 21 with a special screening of selected video works at the Pacific Film Archive at 7:30 p.m., with group members Lord and Hudson Marquez in attendance. Curator Constance Lewallen leads a tour of the exhibition at noon the following day.

The fire also made it much more challenging to plan the show, since people usually go to museums expecting to see a lot of things. One of the few surviving Ant Farm artworks is the actual original Phantom Dream Car from Media Burn, which will be on view in the museum lobby. The rest of the retrospective will mostly be presented as a giant timeline, featuring some original drawings plus numerous posters, blueprints, and other ephemera. Video segments will be integrated directly into the wall on flat-screen monitors. "Video was so integral to our process," Lord says. "It was really important to get it on the wall and acknowledge it, frame it." A separate gallery will serve as a minitheater where visitors can sit comfortably and watch an hour-long video compilation, including "The World's Longest Bridge" and other segments that have rarely been shown to the public. "Ant Farm 1968-1978" runs through April 26 at the Berkeley Art Museum, 2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. Info: 510-642-0808 or BAMPFA.berkeley.edu

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