Wednesday, October 28, 2009

currency backed by antimatter

From Good Magazine:

Antimatters of the Art

Jonathon Keats is an artist-philosopher whose conceptual projects have examined everything from the nature of the divine (he tried to engineer God in a petri dish) to the sexuality of plants (he built a pornography theater for them). While Keats’s projects are often both whimsical and beautiful on the outside, at their center are deep questions about the nature of life and the universe. In short, it is conceptual art that actually makes you think about concepts, rather than merely about conceptual art.

His latest piece is the First Bank of Antimatter, a financial institution that will issue a new currency backed not by gold or silver, but by antimatter, in the form of positrons created from the radioactive decay of a block of potassium fluoride. “We’ve confused money, which essentially is a means of transaction, with what is transacted,” says Keats. “Therefore, we have come to place value on money on its own right as if it were one of the things transacted.” The positrons that back the bank’s currency are annihilated when they come into contact with matter, and can only exist in the material world for an instant except under controlled conditions. Since the money could never actually be exchanged for the thing that gives it value, positron notes help to distinguish between our mode of currency and the things we buy with that currency (the blurring of that line led to many of our current financial woes). “It can only really be used for purposes of transaction,” he says. “Think of it as something to be hoarded or think of it as something that is valuable in its own right, and—by the laws of nature—antimatter will refute this idea.”

The First Bank of Antimatter will offer notes in 10,000, 100,000, and 1 million positron denominations, at an initial exchange rate of $10 for 10,000 positrons, starting November 12 at the Modernism Gallery in San Francisco.

-Good Magazine, Fall 2009


Jonathon Keats Derails Econopocalypse With Antimatter Currency

Conceptual artist (and Wired smartypants) Jonathan Keats is back to rescue our cratering currency by pegging it to antimatter. That ought to negate decades of devaluation just fine.

“The anti-economy supported and financed by the First Bank of Antimatter will necessarily be independent of ours,” Keats explained in an e-mail to “And if some analyst ventures too far into that territory, he’ll explode with a force of approximately 2,140,000 kilotons of TNT.”

The First Bank of Antimatter, opening Nov. 12 at San Francisco’s Modernism gallery, fits the 38-year-old artist like an underwater mortgage fits American homeowners. Our hyper-real economy, drunk on rampant debt securitization with little in the way of real value or regulation, has sundered the global marketplace. It has also nearly choked the dollar to death.

While the Great Depression found the world economy severing its connection to the gold standard in search of normalcy. Our economy, Keats argues, should sever its connection to the material world altogether.

“Backed by paper, our economy depends on good faith, which tends to be in short supply,” said Keats. “Since my alternative currency is secured by antimatter positrons, which are finite in quantity, antimatter depository notes avoid that problem. It’s abstract like fiat money, yet accountable like currency backed by precious metals.”

Jonathan Keats' antimatter economy may be volatile, but it's probably less dangerous than our own.

It’s so crazy, it just might work. Wait, isn’t it already? Isn’t fiat money already abstract? We used to trade in livestock, ochre and gold. Isn’t antimatter an openly logical answer to our maddeningly illogical currency?

“I don’t know that there’s anything illogical about our currency,” Keats said, “except that it leads us to behave in irrational ways. People were probably also irrational with their livestock and ochre, but trading that wasn’t leveraged in a way that could do much damage beyond their families or villages.”

Further questions arise. Can you short antimatter? Would antimatter be a safe hedge against the material world, which is getting freakier by the day, and not just when it comes to finance? And then there’s the obvious query: Could this anti-material economy, with “its own antimatter skyscrapers and ocean liners,” as envisioned by Keats, blow Earth into scattered, deleveraged bits?

“Antimatter isn’t dangerous, per se,” Keats said. “The danger is when antimatter comes into contact with matter, resulting in a cataclysmic release of energy. In this sense, it will be an ideal hedge. The reason why our economy nearly self-destructed was that it was too tightly coupled.”

So wait, you can short antimatter as a hedge? Goldman Sachs is probably going to want to know.

“Hedgers could short it,” Keats said, “but that would defeat the purpose of the hedge, since it would be akin to investing in ordinary matter. Of course, antimatter people living in an antimatter world might consider shorting antimatter as a hedge, and the First Bank of Antimatter will be pleased to facilitate such transactions. Alternately, they might consider investing in our world as a hedge against financial calamity in their own.”

Sold! The matter economy has so far been mostly a bust, given that the dollar has arguably lost more than 25 percent of its value in the last decade alone. Might as well jump on an antimatter economy and see if it works any better. It’s a pragmatic move for a pragmatic artist.

“It was the most practical solution I could come up with,” Keats said. “And since no one else was prepared to delve into antimatter economics, I had no choice but to become the bank’s treasurer.”

1 comment:

  1. It's a classic new money. Superman would be proud.



Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!