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From the Vault: Underground Art

Nathan Gray

The unsigned “Furman Antics” mural was the backdrop for residence hall life about 40 years ago.

By Furman News

The basement of the Clark Murphy Housing Complex has an ant problem.

The problem isn’t the ants themselves. These insects of the family Formicidae have been underneath Judson Hall for decades, marching along a concrete wall between Ramsey and Townes halls, immortalized in paint.

wall painting of three ants carrying an acoustic guitar on their backs

Nathan Gray

The problem is that the identities of the artists are seemingly lost to history. The unsigned “Furman Antics” mural had already been the backdrop for generations of dorm life by the time Ron Thompson, associate dean of students and director of housing and residence life, came to Furman in 2011.

The ants proceed from both ends of the hall, carrying things that you would expect to find in a college dorm – backpacks, snacks, detergent, headphones and the like. Appropriate, since most of the students walking past would have been toting similar items, headed to the laundry machines, kitchen, music rehearsal rooms, pool table or TVs the hall once housed.

The insects’ destination is a huge anthill painted in the center of the hall, where they do pretty much what their bipedal counterparts would have been doing – washing clothes, studying, playing piano and singing, and watching TV. (Several are seen catching a broadcast of “All My Ants,” a favorite among arthropod soap fans.)

As one might expect, Furman ants are studious, with noses (or the insect equivalents thereof) buried deep in textbooks like “Principles of Antonomics,” “Antochology” and “Antonyms,” along with – naturally – an “Anthology.”

wall painting of ants carrying a diet pepsi can on their backs

Nathan Gray

The mural does contain some clues to its provenance:

Two ants schlep a can of Diet Pepsi bearing a logo from the mid-1970s or early 1980s. Another listens to a Sony Walkman resembling the ones that would have been found in hundreds of backpacks on campus during the New Wave era.

The insects mostly have the place to themselves these days, as Ant Hall is now open only to maintenance personnel.

Due to renovations in Clark Murphy Housing Complex, HVAC pipes stretch down the passageway, and most of the centerpiece anthill is now obscured by bulky machinery.

Other subterranean artworks in the complex have not been as fortunate as “Furman Antics,” says Thompson.

“When I came here in 2011, all of the laundry rooms had a mural painted on one wall,” he says. “When we renovated, they were painted over. I hate that they weren’t preserved.”

For Thompson, Ant Hall – like many other artistic masterpieces – evokes complex themes far beyond its simplistic imagery.

“I’m curious about what they were trying to communicate,” he muses. “I mean, why ants? Is it because they’re busy, or because they’re stronger together?”