Roni Horn Ant Farm 1974–75 Photograph of people looking at the wooden frame structure of an ant farm.

Roni Horn
Ant Farm 1974–75
Oak, glass, earth, and ants
Courtesy: The artist and Hauser & Wirth Zürich London
© Roni Horn

The earliest sculpture in the exhibition, Ant Farm 1974 –75 (Room 2) was made in Horn’s last semester at the Rhode Island School of Art and Design. It was originally presented in her studio as a silent performance which included the artist observing the ant farm. An active environment of live ants is sandwiched between two sheets of glass held in a simple wood frame.

Though Ant Farm has various precedents in the history of twentieth-century sculpture, including Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass and process-based works of the late 1960s, its strangeness is startling. The sculpture functions both as a self-contained culture (a sealed environment under observation) and as an active drawing, with the ants tunnelling through the earth. Sitting low on the ground, the structure draws the viewer to crouch down and look intently at the tiny activities in the farm, demanding a level of attention and close scrutiny that can feel unusual in the public space of a museum. Ant Farm is the first example of Horn’s commitment to creating works that engage the viewer actively in their full realisation. Ant Farm, in a sense, identifies the act of observation as the content of the work.