The Space-Expanding Room: AFAAB in VR
Just as the pandemic lockdowns were beginning, the two of us – Catalina Alvarez, an experimental filmmaker and media art professor, and Liz Flyntz, a media artist and researcher – began scheduling weekly video calls. We invited architects, artists, and pedagogues from all over the world to discuss an abandoned art building on the small town-Ohio campus of Antioch College.
The building, an angular neo-Bauhaus post-modern construction completed in 1971, is the only publicly accessible building designed by the media art and architecture group Ant Farm. Members of Ant Farm were recruited to design the building during a moment of economic and political crisis for Antioch College, a small liberal arts school that has been engaged with radical reformulations of pedagogy and governance since its inception in 1850. When the building was in use, it was a wildly active center of creative production. Since the college closed the building in 2007, the mythology around it has grown, while the building itself has slowly crumbled. Guest discussants have suggested reuse ideas as wide ranging as a post-prison job training center and a hydroponic farm, while the college itself has painted the building’s originally brightly colored exterior brown in order to make it “blend in”.
The art building that the seminal architecture group Ant Farm constructed at the Antioch College campus in Ohio, while still standing, presents the abandoned remnants of a previous era of creative risk taking. We—Liz Flyntz and Catalina Alvarez—co-founded an initiative to restore the Antioch art building; coordinating paid positions for students to take part in our collective effort, and applying to the Ohio State Historic Register for official historic status. This abandoned art building now operates as a locus for creative production, as it was designed to do, although without its physicality. The utopian ideal of the building's architecture serves as the virtual foundation of our project.
As media artists we realized we were well-suited to co-direct a virtual reality project building on our research: The Space Expanding Room: AFAAB in VR is a virtual version of the Ant Farm Antioch Art Building (AFAAB) in Mozilla Hubs, designed by and with our collaborator, Ty Clapsaddle. We built AFAAB in VR as part of our Museum Without Walls Virtual Residency program with the Espírito Santo Art Museum – MAES (Brazil).
We wish to move beyond recreating a stagnant trap for nostalgia. Our project betrays linear time as we layer the retro-futurity of early architectural renderings and images with present day footage, artifacts and computer generated imagery, as well as the visitors' own moment of encounter.