NEA Grant for Twelve Earths

Michael Jones McKean Studio, digital rendering of "Atmosphere,"  Twelve Earths , 2018.

Michael Jones McKean Studio, digital rendering of "Atmosphere," Twelve Earths, 2018.

The National Endowment for the Arts has approved an Art Works grant of $25,000 to Fathomers for the development of artist Michael Jones McKean’s “Atmosphere,” one of a dozen sites in a long-term, planetary artwork called Twelve Earths.

"Atmosphere" is imagined as a shelter out of time: a simple house, a vernacular structure, compatible with the surrounding landscape — but a house that slips invisibly into difference. In its interior, the shelter will contain a precise atmospheric composition describing a time before us. Entering this space, we slip backwards into air before humans, before ant colonies, before animals that live among us, before plants we might recognize. We commune with other ages; we travel in time, enveloped in a shroud of atmosphere hundreds of millions of years old. 

Co-developed with scientists and to be complemented by a robust program of conversations and performances, the work seeks to contribute to public dialogue about long-term thinking and ecological stewardship by offering a visceral, transportive experience across an otherwise unfathomable timescale.

"We hope to design 'Atmosphere' as a semi-permanent installation," says Stacy Switzer, Fathomers' curator and executive director, "to be maintained and open to the public for a minimum of one year. Ultimately, though, the goal is to survive much longer: to exist as time outside of time; a space of mysterious origin and quality to be discovered by adventuring tourists and art pilgrims alike; a breath that pre-dates the human, and suggests what we might return to again." 

more about this:

In December 2017, we presented "Ancient Atmosphere," a conversation with artist Michael Jones McKean, paleophysiologist John VandenBrooks, and curator Stacy Switzer on the challenges and poetics of replicating an ancient Earth atmosphere within a residential domicile. You can listen to that here!


On Dec. 6, 2017, Fathomers presented a conversation among artist Michael Jones McKean; paleophysiologist John VandenBrooks; and Stacy Switzer, Fathomers’ curator and executive director, on McKean’s effort to replicate a 300-million-year-old atmosphere within a simple residential house — one of a dozen sites around the world that make up Twelve Earths, the project-in-progress launched by McKean and Fathomers to unfurl over the next decade.

"Atmosphere is the thing that we're living in.

It's the thing that literally shrouds our bodies, the thing that seeps into our clothes, the thing that we breathe inside of our bodies momentarily, and extract something, and then exhale certain exhaust out.

It's the thing that we kind of take for granted every single second of our life.

As an artist, trying to think about a project that considers the earth itself as a total object, it felt essential to consider this invisible force field that is gluing us all together in the room -- that is at one with us right now."

-- Michael Jones McKean


Michael Jones McKean (b. 1976, Micronesia) is an associate professor of sculpture and extended media at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he has taught since 2006, and the co-director of ASMBLY, in New York. He has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Nancy Graves Foundation Award, an Artadia Award, and fellowships and residencies from the Core Program (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), the International Studio and Curatorial Program (New York), the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program (New York), the MacDowell Colony, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts — where he devised and employed a large-scale self-contained water harvesting and storage system to produce a simple but phenomenal visual event: a rainbow in the sky.

John VandenBrooks, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of physiology at Midwestern University in Glendale, Ariz.. His research focuses on how varying amounts of atmospheric oxygen over geologic time influenced the physiology, development and evolution of animals. He has consulted on and appeared in television and radio programs from National Geographic, the Science Channel, the History Channel and the BBC, and has been awarded grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the American Museum of Natural History, and the American Philosophical Society, among many others. VandenBrooks received his Ph.D. in geology and geophysics from Yale University in 2007 .