Local Authority: Mant Versus Nature

A colony of Seattle artists builds a life-size ant farm for Burning Man

Mant Versus Nature
How much difference can one “mant” make? A group of Seattle artists called the Sober Free Society aims to find out at Burning Man (8/30–9/6), the annual festival held on an ancient desert lakebed in Black Rock City, Nevada, where hundreds of Seattleites flock each summer to construct and experience art installations. Burning Man recently awarded the Sober Free Society a grant to create a piece called Mant Farm, a human-scale ant farm. (Last year, the group received a similar grant to produce Evo-Wall, a climbable wall evoking evolution.)

Inspired by kids’ ant farm toys, Efus Richman, Jesse Miller, Carl Sanden, Anna Black, Jesse Rathbun and about 20 other artists are combining their expertise in graphic, web, industrial and apparel design to create a giant, nostalgic playground for all “burners” (frequent Burning Man attendees) to explore.

SM:
How did the Mant Farm come about?
ER: Burning Man has a theme every year—this year it’s “metropolis,” which is an interesting idea, considering that Burning Man takes place in a temporary city.
JM: When they announce the theme, we call a creative meeting and brainstorm concepts that fit.
CS: And an ant farm just happens to be one of nature’s many metropolises.
SM: What is the appeal of a human-size ant farm? 
AB: When someone sees it, they immediately think, “Oh, I remember that.…That would be so fun to play on!” The art at Burning Man is all about being interactive, participatory and engaging.
ER: We’re engaging people in the idea of a toy….But it’s huge! You can actually physically go through the tunnels.
SM: How does it reflect the ideals of Burning Man?
JR: It really exemplifies the ideals of community.
JM: Burning Man is completely community based and creates a city of people from all walks of life. It’s a treasure trove of ideas. Within the first few days of being at Burning Man, everyone’s dirty, caked in mud.
ER: You have no idea who anyone really is. The guy next to you could be a brain surgeon, or a musician, or anyone, you never know. It breaks down boundaries.  Everyone is equal. 
SM: What will become of Mant Farm at the end of the festival?
AB: Everything’s temporary. Some people burn their installations.
JM: With art, there are these different extremes: Museums protect and preserve all of the art within them; at Burning Man, you present your art and either dismantle it or destroy it. Its temporary nature is a sort of cleansing process.
JR: It’s like with fishing: Catch and release.

Originally published in August 2010

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