“If anyone has a right to spy on us, it’s our descendants.”

So says conceptual artist and “experimental philosopher” Jonathon Keats in regard to his latest art-meets-science project — the century camera.

Intended to spark critical long-term thinking, the century camera project is an “unauthorized surveillance” system consisting of 100 ultra-long-exposure photographic devices deployed in and around Berlin. Based on the traditional pinhole camera, each device is designed to create an image — over the course of 100 years — that depicts municipal changes in the city. In place of film, the century camera uses a special black paper surface to record images … very … very … slowly. A building that only lasts a couple of decades would produce a faint and ghostly image against the backdrop of more permanent structures.

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The cameras, which Keats designed himself, are made to be simple, small, durable and easy to conceal. Working with Berlin’s Team Titanic art gallery, Keats will distribute 100 of the cameras next week — May 16, 2014 — to anyone who wants to participate. Volunteers are then responsible for finding a place to secure their camera, and to provide retrieval instructions to their kids and grandkids. The resulting exhibit is scheduled for– let’s all stay optimistic, please — May 16, 2114.

Keats says he hopes the project will expand to include more cameras, more participants, and more cities. “I’m already having conversations with people in places ranging from Los Angeles to Mexico City,” Keats told Discovery News. “And crucially all of the technology is totally open-source. Not only is Berlin beyond my control. The concept is too.”

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Keats — once referred to as a “poet of ideas” by the New Yorker — has a long and intriguing resume stacked with such conceptual projects. He once attempted to genetically engineer God. He sold extra-dimensional real estate for a while. Then there’s his quantum ATM machine.

Keats says that while the Century Camera project is principally designed to spark discussion here and now, he believes the 100-year exhibit will actually happen.

“From the people I’ve spoken with so far, I have the sense that more than a few will follow through,” Keats said. “People really agonize over where they’ll stash their camera. The place needs to be stable enough to support the capsule, and to conceal it well, and it must provide a view worth observing over the long term.

“Simply presenting people with the opportunity to hide a camera with a hundred-year-long exposure seems to put them in a mindset of long-term thinking about their urban environment — what’s important to them, what they want to conserve, and what they’d like to see changed.”

Credit: Jonathon Keats