Debora Panaccione

To teach tolerance, why not just turn people into human-alien hybrids? Sounds good, doesn’t it? This is exactly the area in which experimental artist Jonathon Keats lives best.

We have already covered Keats’ quirky performative philosophy, from his quest to save the Holocene to his century-old exhibition camera and its museum of toys that change the future. Keats’ breathtaking projects are reminiscent of a practicing scientist in a David Lynch reality, and present a sort of theatrical fatuity that is both hyper logical and bordering on dysregulation. Whatever your reaction, his projects always succeed in doing exactly what they set out to do: make us think about our world and our inextricable involvement within it in new ways.

For his latest project, Keats will bury a meteorite in an Italian town in a way that will have a small influence on local groundwater. To what end? Like any Keats project, the answer comes down to interpretation. In an email sent to me, Keats began with a story.

In the year 312 CE, a meteor converted the Roman Empire from paganism to Christianity. Observed by Emperor Constantine, who was impressed by a burst of light probably caused by atmospheric ablation, the stone may have landed near Fontecchio, a small village in central Italy several kilometers from a mysterious ancient crater.

“The new religion may have caused introspection among the Romans, but humanity has hardly lived up to the ideals professed by the prophets,” Keats explains. “With the climate crisis and endemic social injustice, we need a new vision. The cooperation of all will require a transformation on an even greater scale than the conversion of Constantine.”

By carrying a meteorite to the town of Fontecchio in his luggage and burying it in a way that mineralizes the water flowing through the town’s ancient fountain, Keats maintains that anyone who drinks from the newly anointed Fountains of Tolerance will absorb minerals, which originated from an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter. As Mr. Keats explains, “These minerals will be incorporated into their bones, making people alien hybrids.”

Extraterrestrial hybridity is an antidote to xenophobia and prejudice as it transcends political boundaries, ethnic distinctions, and an anthropocentric worldview. By being all “other” together, humans can simultaneously expand their scope of existence, come closer as a people, and connect more deeply with all forms of life here on Earth and in the cosmos.

During a dedication ceremony for the first fountain on August 6, a brass plaque was affixed to the tap to ensure that anyone who takes the water will do so with the intention of becoming part aliens. The mayor of Fontecchio, Sabrina Ciancone, gave a speech explaining the historical significance of the 14th century fountain and proclaiming the political importance of tolerance in the past and present. Mr Keats also took the floor, noting that the fountains are ideal sites for political change, not only because water is essential for life, but also because the fountains are inherently community-based, sources of cooperation between ‘all the more important as global water insecurity amplifies inequalities.

“The Fountains of Tolerance will activate what is already latent in the fountains but often forgotten,” he told a crowd of local residents and guests. “They will be an antidote to the isolated and insulating circumstances of indoor plumbing: a public good in the fullest sense.”

Mr. Keats was invited to Fontecchio by a government commission headed by the Ufficio Speciale per la Ricostruzione dei Comuni del Cratere, as part of a program called Riabitare con l’Arte. Responsible for the reconstruction of the region – which is still recovering from the impact of the Aquila earthquake in 2009 – the office focuses not only on physical restoration but also on social renewal.

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