Jonathon Keats – world-renowned conceptual artist, experimental philosopher and writer – today announced his plans to introduce a new form of time-keeping to the Atlanta metropolitan area that is based on the flow of the City’s hidden waterways. He plans to create a new municipal clock for Atlanta that will speed up and slow down with the changing pace and meander of local rivers – particularly, the Chattahoochee River, Peachtree Creek and other nearby streams. The US Geological Survey-calibrated clock – as well as site-specific calendars situated in the waterways – will provide an alternative time-reckoning mechanism for daily business and personal life in one of America’s most time-driven places.
Atlanta may be uniquely ripe for a shift in thinking about rivers and time. Since its early days as a railroad city – originally named Terminus – the city has placed a high value on rapid progress. Atlanta’s nearby rivers, however, have played relatively little role in its business or cultural affairs. The Atlanta River Time project aims to change Atlantans’ perspective on time, the natural environment and the impact of modern human existence on both. “Atlanta was built around the railroad rather than the river,” said Keats. “It’s a business-first town that was founded and continues to be driven to make the trains run on time. Although these days it’s more about UPS trucks, Delta jets and Amazon Prime delivery.”
Since the Industrial Revolution, mechanical and electronic timekeeping devices have contributed to a century of detachment from nature. “We can overcome dehumanization and environmental devastation by calibrating our lives according to personal observations of seasonal changes in our natural surroundings,” Keats said. His solution is to redefine time not just in terms of people’s lives but also based on ecology.
Keats delivered the first version of River Time in Anchorage, Alaska in late 2020. With funding from the Bloomberg Foundation, he created a digital Alaska River Time clock which is metered by glacial melt’s impact on regional rivers. The time has been projected onto the exterior of the Anchorage Museum and a series of events – from chess matches to concerts have been calibrated to match the Alaska River Time cadence. Now, a cadre of Atlanta river and arts organizations is collaborating to bring Keats and his alternative time reckoning systems to Georgia’s capital city.
Flux Projects – a non-profit championing temporary public art programs in Atlanta – selected Keats for its visiting artist program, Flux Exchange. Since mid-2020, San Francisco-based Keats has been virtually engaging with local artists and cultural contributors and researching the city’s waterways in preparation for launching his Atlanta River Time initiative in-person this Fall.
Anne Archer Dennington, Flux Projects’ Executive Director said, “Flux supports artists and projects that disrupt the everyday and inspire imagination, wonder, and awe. Keats is famous for provoking fresh perspectives through public art experiments at the intersection of art and the environment. As he has done elsewhere, he will make a huge positive impact while he’s here.”
In September 2021, AIR Serenbe – the artist residency division of the Serenbe Institute for Art, Culture & the Environment – will host Keats as an artist-in-residence. Keats will use his residency to further plans to develop a public River Time clock tower for Atlanta as well as interactive calendars based on the erosion of river rock and the migration of meanders. Keats will also lead a series of community-based river almanac workshops and will participate in AIR Serenbe’s FILMER initiative which connects Georgia filmmakers with high caliber artists to make an original short portrait film showcasing the artists in front of and behind the camera. For this, Keats has been paired with Atlanta-based documentary photographer and filmmaker, Ethan Payne. “AIR Serenbe curates the time and space necessary to develop new work, nurturing critical moments to make tangible and shareable the creative process realized. Keats is an ideal resident to inspire and effect change and I am excited for the possibilities ahead,” said Michael Bettis, Programming Director, AIR Serenbe.
Chattahoochee NOW is advising the Atlanta River Time initiative regarding artist access to river locations and to key civic leaders. “Chattahoochee NOW is committed to making more people aware of, and bringing more people to, Atlanta’s hidden riverfront. When people see the river – in all its urban and rural beauty, they think differently about it. We applaud Flux and Jonathon Keats for the Atlanta River Time project which also encourages people to think differently about landscape, natural resources and time,” said Jodi Mansbach, co-founder of Chattachoochee NOW.
South Fork Conservancy works to restore the banks of the South Fork of Peachtree Creek including five miles of completed trails and acres of public greenspace. South Fork Conservancy is collaborating the project by providing access to its Zonolite Park site near Emory University to host Keats’ Atlanta River Time workshops. The area near the non-profit’s upcoming Confluence Bridge at the headwaters of Peachtree Creek may serve as a location for Keats’ erosion calendar. South Fork Conservancy’s Executive Director, Kimberly Estep said, “Atlanta River Time is a brilliant public art concept and we look forward to bringing it to life and bringing more people to Peachtree Creek as a result.”
Keats also been exploring possible Atlanta River Time partnerships with other community organizations operating at the intersection of art, science and the environment, and is working with Earth Law Center on preparing an ordinance to recognize Atlanta River Time as an alternative official time standard.
To kick off what is expected to be a multi-year effort, Keats will participate in a public, online roundtable discussion about Atlanta River Time on Monday, June 14 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm ET. Other panelists include Jodi Mansbach of Chattahoochee NOW, Jennifer Bauer-Lyons of Serenbe Institute for Art, Culture & the Environment and Ryan Gravel – visionary behind the Atlanta Beltline, author and founder of the infrastructure and urban design consultancy, Sixpitch. The discussion will be hosted by Andrew Dietz, Atlanta River Time Producer and author of the 2020 book Follow the Meander: An Indirect Route to a More Creative Life which features many of Keats’ creative endeavors.
About Jonathon Keats
Acclaimed as a “poet of ideas” by The New Yorker and a “multimedia philosopher-prophet” by The Atlantic, Jonathon Keats is an experimental philosopher, artist and writer based in the United States and Europe. Over the past two decades, his conceptually-driven interdisciplinary art projects have been hosted by institutions ranging from Arizona State University to the Long Now Foundation to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Keats is the author of six books, most recently You Belong to the Universe: Buckminster Fuller and the Future, published by Oxford University Press, and the author of a weekly art column for Forbes. He has been an artist-in residence at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art + Technology Lab, a Black Mountain College Legacy Fellow at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, an Imaginary Fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, and a Research Fellow at the Nevada Museum of Art’s Center for Art + Environment. He is currently a Polar Lab Artist at the Anchorage Museum, a Visiting Scholar at San Jose State University, a research associate at the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, an Artist-in-Residence at the SETI Institute and UC San Francisco’s Memory and Aging Center, and the curatorial director of the Museum of Future History. A monograph about his work, Thought Experiments: The Art of Jonathon Keats, is forthcoming from Hirmer Verlag. He is represented by Modernism Gallery in San Francisco.