Spring Arts Festival Welcomes Inventive Alumnus Jonathon Keats
The 2015 Spring Arts Festival, Amherst College’s biggest arts festival yet, is currently holding a mix of musical and visual performances; art exhibits and workshops and conversations with artists. Spanning over 10 days with an event or two every day, the festival has so far hosted a few music showcases and celebrations, a film screening and an artist workshop with Jonathon Keats ’94. Still to come: an arts party at the Powerhouse, a glee club concert, an arts faculty performance and a reveal of the Jonathon Keats exhibit at The Mead, paired with a lecture by Keats himself.
Among the variety of special events being held on campus over this week and a half, a focus for those interested in photography, but more importantly conceptual art, would be the events with Jonathon Keats. Once a philosophy major at Amherst, Keats is now most widely known as a philosopher and conceptual artist, residing in San Francisco and Italy.
Keats’ wildly entertaining past projects tend to play on the fringes of social norms and often engage an unsuspecting public. Much of his work could be described as outward public performances of philosophical ideas. In 2003 he copyrighted his mind as his own creation in order to obtain a type of immortality, as the reflection of his mind as intellectual property would be protected past his death to physically act out the idea “I think, therefore I am.” He’s done a variety of not-so-borderline-shocking projects, like selling his thoughts produced in an intensive 24-hour window in the presence of a model posing nude and trying to genetically engineer God in a lab.
Wednesday, April 15, at Amherst, members of the community have the opportunity to share a moment commencing Jonathon Keats’ newest project, a 1,000-year exposure taken from the top spires of Stearns Steeple overlooking the Holyoke Range. The exposure is to be paired with an exhibit in The Mead of Keats’s relevant work, and the opportunity to engage in conversation with the artist himself.
A style dubbed “Photographing Deep Time,” Keats’s goal is to document how a frame has changed over a long period of time in a single exposure as opposed to capturing one fleeting moment. He has several ongoing projects — 100 100-year cameras capturing change continuously — in Berlin, Germany and Tempe, Arizona.
On Tuesday, Keats prefaced his Wednesday reveal of the 1,000-year camera by holding an artist workshop, showing the audience how to make 100-year cameras. After a brief introduction and quick run through the method of creating a 100-year pinhole camera, he unleashed us. He instructed each of us to dismantle an old film camera, and add the necessary features: some black construction paper, two sheets of metal and a very strong, long-lasting glue. Simple, yet holding the powerful potential of capturing 100 years worth of change — the project was easy and fun, giving participants the chance to do something creative.
But, the final product of these 100 and even 1,000-year cameras is not what drives the project — for Keats, the prospect of success in having an exposure turn out and be comprehensible “needs to be possible … but is not essential.” Though he researched the best materials in art conservation extensively, he said that, since so many factors could destroy the project — a natural disaster, architectural crumble of the steeple, lack of information and technology of deep time photography — failure is possible, yet not fatal. The goal is to, in the process of creating an image of society, an “image of culture” as Keats calls it, involve the members of the community, you, in the “ability to see deep time.”
The 1,000-year camera placed overlooking the Holyoke Range gives those with the knowledge of the project the opportunity to see a future, to foresee the interplay between humans and nature, maybe leading to a more conscientious handling of our environment.
Keats said he hopes that one day, these long-term cameras may be implemented into society normally, as a positive surveillance method to increase awareness of our impact on the environment, and to further involve and consciously intertwine current members of the planet with those of the future.
Charming and bursting with questions and ideas, Jonathon Keats remembers his days at Amherst fondly, describing Professor George’s Philosophy of Science course as very influential — it was where he said he first discovered the invigorating combination of “rigor and naivetë” that drives many of his thought experiments today.
The experimental philosopher will be speaking today, April 15, in the Mead from 2 to 3 p.m., revealing his exhibit contextualizing the 100-year and 1,000- year camera deep time project. The 1,000-year camera will be placed on the Stearns Steeple on June 1 of this year.