Saturday, November 08, 2008

MAGNES Makes It in Today's Oakland Tribune

Angela Hill writes in today's Oakland Tribune:

Whenever my brain needs a good teasing, I turn faithfully to San Francisco conceptual artist and all-around cerebral confounder, Jonathon Keats, well known in Bay Area art circles for such works as punching a time clock whenever he had a thought, or producing "intergalactic art" from radio signals from outer space, or developing a prototype voting booth out of a Ouija board.

Now he's done it again with his latest public art installation called, "The Atheon: A Temple of Science for Rational Belief," which will be up through February inside a two-story downtown Berkeley building at Harold Way and Kittredge Street.

Right now, you can only see it from the outside as the building undergoes rehab to become the new Judah L. Magnes Museum. And to the naked eye, the Atheon appears merely as pretty blue stained-glass windows. But wait. There's more. The blue glow is actually an enlarged version of a cosmic microwave background image, originally generated by NASA, mapping very slight differences in temperature over many millions of years. Variations which ultimately resulted in the formation of the universe, the planet Earth, bacon ultimate cheeseburgers, us and chimps, but not necessarily in that order.

(You can also access your own personal Atheon by going to

Basically, the Atheon is a thought experiment, giving science religious trappings like windows and liturgies. It's an attempt to "explore the shape a religion might take in which the content of the religion is science," Keats said.

Ow, my brain.

"It's a merging of worlds that seem very different from each other, but are perhaps not that different. At some point, we will have to reconcile the great divide between religion and science," he said. "Science, which is to some degree mysterious and miraculous, does have a component that is truly religious by nature. And those with a religious persuasion can find the miracles in it. There's this sense of awe at the cosmos, which is what people seek out in religion."

Keats' work is such that you don't always know if he's serious, or just messing with your mind. Maybe both. "As many of my projects are, this is a prototype at this point," he said. "You know how hard it is to get funding for new religions, much like for new Ouija-board voting systems."

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