"Sometimes people call my work absurd, and I don't know if they mean it as a compliment, but I take it as one."
-- Jonathon Keats
San Francisco writer, critic and conceptual artist Jonathon Keats is looking for God, and he thinks he may have found Him -- in a petri dish. Spark trails Keats as he works on his latest project, "Divine Taxonomy," which attempts to find God's place on the phylogenetic tree.
Keats works with what he calls "found processes," procedures that he discovers in the activities of everyday life that he then appropriates for his art. In "Brain Trust," Keats adopted the process involved with buying shares of a company's stock. Keats offered futures contracts for shares of his brain to be exercised upon his death, at the bargain price of 10 dollars per 1 million neurons. The complicated process draws attention to the procedure itself rather than to what the process apparently seeks to accomplish.
Keats's latest work attempts to determine what God's DNA might look like by discovering whether it is closer to that of a fruit fly or blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). With the assistance of Smithsonian zoologist Mark Moffett and Berkeley geneticist Tom Cline, Keats assembled three groups of each species and exposed them to continuous tape loops of prayers from the three major monotheistic religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Keats also established a control group that was exposed to recordings of talk radio.
"Divine Taxonomy" could be seen as a test for the creationist/evolutionist debate. Cyanobacteria are simple, single-cell organisms and are believed to be the oldest life form on Earth, whereas fruit flies exist on the same phylogenetic branch as human beings. If evolutionary theory is accurate, then God's DNA should most resemble cyanobacteria. On the other hand, if the creationists are correct, then God's genetic makeup will prove to be more like those animals closest to those He created in His own image.
Jonathon Keats has published in several venues, including "The New York Times," the "San Francisco Chronicle" and "Wired," and has written columns for Artweek and "San Francisco Magazine." "Lighter Than Vanity: A Novel," his second long work of fiction will be published by Eksmo Press.
Also on KQED.org this week ...
KQED Science Site Relaunches
All of KQED's science and environment content is now aggregated in one place on KQED.org. Find everything from Astronomy to Zebras!
Enter the New "ImageMakers" Screening Room
Enjoy films from present and past seasons of KQED's short independent film series, divided into Animation, Comedy, Drama, and Suspense.