Artist Commissioned to Build First Temple for Worship of Science
New "Atheon" Based on Latest Cosmology from NASA… Project Conceived by Artist Jonathon Keats to Debut at Berkeley's Judah L. Magnes Museum With Co-Sponsorship from the University of California… Website Converts PCs into Scientific Shrines…
September 15, 2008 - Four millennia after Abraham fathered Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and 150,000 years after hominids introduced burial rituals to the Mediterranean, religion has finally been rendered wholly compatible with science. Beginning on September 27, 2008, a two-story downtown Berkeley building dubbed "the Atheon" will provide a spiritual home for rational people in California, and guidance to acolytes worldwide.
Establishment of an Atheon has been a high priority in the scientific community for the past several years, rivaling even enthusiasm for the new Large Hadron Collider. "When you listen to people like Nobel-laureate cosmologist Steven Weinberg, or Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, you hear a lot of talk about how god-based religion is out-of-date," says conceptual artist Jonathon Keats. "The leading minds believe that science can and should provide a spiritually satisfying replacement. But until recently no one bothered to consider what form that alternative might take."
Mr. Keats recognized that this was a role for an artist. "Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo did so much to make Christianity palatable to the masses," he observes. While Mr. Keats himself can neither paint nor sculpt, leading institutions including the Berkeley Art Museum and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts have affirmed his ability to think artistically, featuring his conceptual work in multiple recent exhibitions. Moreover, he's the only living artist to take an interest in building a temple to science. "I'm hardly the best person for the job," he admits, "but if I didn’t take it on, nobody would."
Late last year, Mr. Keats approached the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley with the idea of temporarily installing a prototype Atheon in their newly-acquired downtown building, which was slated for major overhaul. "The building has fourteen-foot-high cathedral-style windows," says chief curator Alla Efimova, "and frankly nothing was planned there during restoration when Jonathon came along." With a grant from UC Berkeley's Chancellor's Community Partnership Fund - alleged to be considerably less than the $10 billion spent on the Large Hadron Collider - construction of the Atheon began.
This week, Mr. Keats goes public with his plans. "The essence of religion is stained glass and song," he says. In the case of the Atheon, the stained glass is patterned to show the cosmic microwave background radiation - capturing the universe in the first several hundred thousand years of creation - using NASA's new WMAP satellite data. "The cosmic microwave background is the sky's natural stained glass, our origin story imprinted on the cosmos," explains Mr. Keats. "And now it's visible to us for the first time, glowing through the windows of the Atheon."
The song composed for the Atheon is equally scientific, a canon for three cosmic voices titled "Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?" The canon is comprised of sounds pulsating through several hypothetical universes as well as our own living cosmos, musically arranged by Mr. Keats using audio files produced by University of Virginia astronomer Mark Whittle. According to Mr. Keats, "these universes don't provide any answers. If people are to find spirituality in science, it's likely to be by immersing themselves in questions."
For the foreseeable future, disciples will have to do so on the sidewalk. Due to construction work inside the new Magnes Museum building, the Atheon will be visible only from the exterior, at the corner of Harold Way and Kittredge Street. The windows will be illuminated nightly until February 1, 2009, and the canon will be audible by cellphone, as well as on a special website devoted to the Atheon: www.magnes.org/atheon. The Atheon website, which has just gone live, also glows with the cosmic microwave background radiation, so that people everywhere can turn off their lights and set up a miniature shrine to science on their home computer.
"Eventually there will be an Atheon in every town," anticipates Mr. Keats, who's organizing a synod at UC Berkeley in December to consider this eventuality. "There will be many different architectures and diverse liturgies. Science will make a fine religion," he predicts. "What remains to be determined is whether this religion will be good science."
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Jonathon Keats is a conceptual artist, fabulist, and critic residing in San Francisco. Recently he choreographed the first ballet for honeybees at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in conjunction with Bay Area Now 5. He has also exhibited extraterrestrial abstract artwork at the Judah L. Magnes Museum, unveiled a prototype ouija voting booth for the 2008 election at the Berkeley Art Museum, attempted to genetically engineer God in a petri dish in collaboration with scientists at the University of California, opened the world's first porn theater for house plants in the town of Chico, and petitioned Berkeley to pass a fundamental law of logic, a work commissioned by the city's annual Arts Festival. His projects have been documented by PBS and the BBC World Service, garnering favorable attention in periodicals ranging from The San Francisco Chronicle and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to Nature and New Scientist, to Flash Art and ArtUS. Additionally, Keats serves as the art critic for San Francisco Magazine and as a columnist for both Artweek and Wired Magazine. He is the author of two novels and a collection of fables forthcoming from Random House, as well as museum catalogue essays, monographs, and artist's books. Since graduating summa cum laude from Amherst College in 1994, he has been a visiting artist at California State University, Chico, and a guest lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as the recipient of Yaddo and MacDowell fellowships. He is represented by Modernism Gallery in San Francisco. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE MAGNES
Berkeley's Judah L. Magnes Museum houses the third largest collection of Judaica in the United States. Through innovative educational programs, exhibitions, and publications the Magnes engages with significant issues in contemporary life, promotes public dialogue and scholarship, and encourages understanding of Jewish history for present and future generations. The Magnes also houses the Western Jewish History Center and the Blumenthal Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The Magnes is accredited by the American Association of Museums. During renovations, the Magnes will host a series of installations in the second floor windows of the new building at 2222 Harold Way. For more information, see www.magnes.org.