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Off-the-Deep-End Art Show Purports to Address Climate Change by...Forming a Supercontinent?

Can't we all just get along?


Because weather systems have a wicked sense of humor, we are facing the scourge of rising sea levels amid a historic drought. And, let’s face it, El Niño probably isn’t coming to save us. But! One San Francisco thinker has a plan to solve climate change. It’s simply a matter of building a nuclear power plant on the ocean floor to create a new supercontinent. And it'll take only about 200 million years to implement, which is really a blip in geologic time when you think about it. Say what?

The scheme, which is laid out in an exhibition now on view at Modernism Gallery, is the brainchild of artist Jonathon Keats. Keats is a self-styled experimental philosopher—“a term that means absolutely nothing,” he clarifies—who concocts real-life thought experiments designed to get people to wrestle with big problems in provocative ways. His previous productions, which blur the line between faux-scientific inquiry and performance art, include a show on gravity’s potential to extend human lifespans, and television created for an audience of plants. Once, he even marketed extra-dimensional real estate in San Francisco, emulating a quantum-level Donald Trump.

The new supercontinent, in Keats’ reasoning, will force humans to collaborate on solving climate change by smooshing them all together, like a child making her dolls kiss. “We have come to be at odds with each other, by seeing ourselves as apart from each other,” says Keats. But in reality, when it comes to global warming, “we’re all in it together.” Which is why he is proposing to speed up the painstakingly slow process of continental drift and bring us all back together again.

To get Earth’s tectonic plates on the move, Keats proposes building a plug-in nuclear power plant on the ocean floor. This will then be used to power submerged magnetrons—“the same sort of devices that are at work in a microwave oven, but a little more durable”—which will create intensely focused microwaves that affect the movement of tectonic plates. It’s part elaborate thought experiment, part one-man war waged on that space sunshade for most outlandish climate change solution.

Visitors to the exhibition will see maps of the new continent as Keats has conceived it, plus a tectonic map showing the placement of the “basic technologies” needed to direct the shifting of the earth’s tectonic plates. They will also be invited to purchase a “Design Your Own Supercontinent” kit, for $9.99, that contains a blow up globe, a Sharpie, and a box addressed to the UN (postage not included). Anyone, Keats says, can map out her own solution to geopolitical crisis.

As for whether bringing people together will really address climate change, Keats acknowledges that there is no precedent for success here, either (just ask the Israelis and Palestinians, or anyone who belongs to a condo association). “It’s one of the deepest questions that we need to confront as a society: How do we construct ourselves to most promote qualities of cooperation and harmony, and least promote qualities of antagonism and animosity?” he asks. “How close is too close?”

"Pangaea Optima" is on view through December 15 at the Modernism Gallery at 685 Market St. (suite 290), near Geary St.


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