Experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats spends a lot of time thinking about the Big Questions: What is the nature and purpose of art? How can humanity best understand its place in the universe? Does drinking mineral water infused with bits of Martian meteorite make you an alien?
Over the years, Keats has launched a number of space-art projects to probe these and other vital queries. Here's a look at his space-themed works, from a celestial observatory for microbes to an attempt to goad God into creating more universes.
In January 2012, Keats launched the Microbial Academy of Sciences, reasoning that huge colonies of micro-organisms may be able to glean insights about the universe that remain off-limits to the human mind.
One of the Academy's projects is a celestial observatory. Cyanobacteria are exposed to images taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, allowing the photosynthesizing microbes to detect patterns of starlight — and perhaps make some important discoveries.
Humanity will likely never know what, if anything, the cyanobacteria find out. But that doesn't concern Keats. "What matters is that the universe is understood, not that the knowledge belongs to any one of us," he said.
Keats issued a "Copernican art manifesto" in autumn 2011, calling for the abandonment of masterpieces in favor of works that better represent our entirely mediocre universe.
Among the manifesto's tenets: Paintings should be beige, the average color of the universe; sculpture should be gaseous, matter's predominant state; and literature's narrative arc should be inconclusive, like that of the universe.
This photo, taken at San Francisco's Modernism gallery, shows some of Keats' beige Copernican paintings and one of his hydrogen-gas "sculptures."
According to Keats, Copernican cuisine should have the homogeneity of the cosmos. So he created this "Universal Anti-Seasoning," which is designed to make any dish as bland as cabbage soup.
In 2010, Keats' Local Air & Space Administration (LASA) began selling mineral water infused with tiny bits of Martian meteorites.
Anyone willing to plunk down $45 could buy a bottle and incorporate some Martian essence into his or her body. LASA also hawked bottled moon essence for $30 and stellar water — made with carbonaceous chondrites containing bits of nanodiamond likely forged in the cores of faraway stars — for $60.
LASA also grew cacti in asteroid soil and potatoes in the various mineral waters, thus spawning beings that were part Earthling, part alien.
Also in 2010, Keats began producing "pornography for God." Regarding the Big Bang that created our universe as an act of "divine coitus," Keats set up an altar and streamed a live feed from Europe's Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator. The LHC seeks to recreate the extreme conditions that prevailed shortly after the Big Bang, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Keats explained that the project was an attempt to prod God into creating more universes, since ours is ultimately doomed.
In 2008, Keats announced that he had discovered how to create new universes using the principles of quantum mechanics, uranium-doped glass, scintillating crystal and a few other pieces of equipment.
Above is an early prototype of Keats' "universe generator."
After much tinkering, Keats eventually developed a kit that he said would allow anyone to create new universes. He sold the kits — which consisted of a mason jar, a drinking straw and a piece of chewing gum — for $20.
In 2008, Keats built the "Atheon," a temple dedicated to the worship of science. This structure, erected in downtown Berkeley, Calif., featured stained-glass windows imprinted with patterns created by the cosmic microwave background radiation — the light echoes left over from the Big Bang.
A detailed look at the Atheon's stained-glass windows, which were imprinted with the pattern of the light echoes lingering from the universe's birth.
In 2007's "Miracle Works" exhibition, Keats came up with a slew of "miracles," including newly devised solar systems like the one diagrammed here. He made these miracles available for licensing by any interested gods.
According to string theory, our universe consists of 11 dimensions, rather than the four we're all familiar with (the three spatial dimensions, as well as time).
Keats played off this idea in 2006, embarking on a project that sought to buy and sell properties in these "extra" dimensions. Above is the blueprint for Keats' "tesseract house," which he marketed as a possible vacation home.
Keats' interest in art extends beyond Earth, and he is one of the few terrestrial figures who have tried to give alien artists a voice.
In a 2006 project called the "First Intergalactic Art Exposition," he produced paintings based on signals picked up by the huge Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. Keats also broadcast some of his own works out into the cosmos.
Another canvas created using signals detected by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.