A Visit to Pioneer Works

‘The Present Is the Form of All Life: The Time Capsules of Ant Farm and LST’.


Pioneer Works is a warehouse containing gallery spaces and artist’s studios located in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It was founded in 2014 by the artist Dustin Yellin and his cousin Gabriel Florenz, curator of their current exhibition: ‘The Present Is the Form of All Life: The Time Capsules of Ant Farm and LST’.


A view of the Freedom Tower from the Pioneer Work’s garden.


Gabriel Florenz showed me around the main hall where they were setting up an ‘Ant Farm Media Vanv.08 [Time Capsule] (2008-2016)’. A time capsule in the form of an old van which will soon be ‘cocooned’ in a giant plastic bubble.


Sketches of the Media Van time capsule. Between 1968-1978, the radical architectural group Ant Farm created time capsules in every-day objects (like old cars or refrigerators) in an attempt to disrupt the idea of a time capsule as an immutable and preservable ‘cultural self-portrait’. LST are known as Ant Farm’s ‘contemporary successors’.


The main feature is a device that enables visitors to plug their smartphones into the Media Van. Photographs are then selected at random from these phones, and exhibited as part of a ‘digital time capsule’.


The photographs from participants’ phones were chosen at random and then immediately displayed on a wall. This piece was arguably the most provocative; playing with concepts of privacy, time, and memory in the digital age. What are we willing to trade our privacy for? A piece of art? While the data onscreen may seem private and personal, many of these images have already been consumed in public spaces online. We may choose which photographs are shared and posted on social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram, but in exchange for the curation of an online self we often have to trade and sell access to all of our photographs, our phone contacts, and our preferences. 


Inside the capsule, our outside surroundings were shut out. Time felt like it was put on pause.


A view of the van from the outside in the main gallery.


‘No-one has ever lived in the past. No-one will ever live in the future. The present is the form of all life.’

(The computer Alpha 60 in Alphaville, Dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1965.)


The exhibit left me thinking about the skewed mortality of our online lives. My cell phone suddenly strikes me as a small time capsule. Will it hold my images, thoughts, words, conversations, emotions, and secrets long after I’ve passed on? Or will it fail to pause time. The efforts of Ant Farm and LST provoke us to look at the present, despite the seduction of a digital legacy. Their work pokes fun at our continued attempt to preserve the moment– instead of simply live in it. And their exhibition is a reminder that even the digital, one day, will fade.


Check out more of the work going on at Pioneer Works here: