Katherine Cunningham

Artist Statement

Utopia Remains

The time has come to preach the soul No meager shred – the manly whole. Let agitation come. Who fears? We need a flood. The filth of years Has gathered round us. Roll, then, on! What cannot stand had best be gone.

–W.D., The Social Revolutionist, January 1856


For the first half of the nineteenth century, Ohio was a hotbed of utopian activity, both secular and religious. Ohio was the frontier, and there were some very serious reactions to industrialization, persecution, and general awakenings (great and otherwise) at play. These photographs represent my search for the residue of these communal experiments. Towns like Zoar, Ohio have preserved their heritage into a tourist attraction, but most have been completely wiped from the historical map. It was only through the help of some very dedicated local historians, and the archives for Communal Studies at the University of Southern Indiana, that I was able to trace these sites.

I want these places to be recorded, if only to say that here, at one time, desire turned action, and alternatives were exercised. The political mythologists of the moment might have you believe that our divisions have always been insurmountable. But these cooperative American experiments attracted the (educated, wealthy, devout, free) and the not. The motivations for membership were complex, and individualized, but all agreed to try and live out something a bit better, something of their own creation, something from nothing, if only for a while. While intentional communities still exist, “utopia” is more of a thought exercise than a reality, a way to expose what lacks, and a way to play with what is possible. That many of these utopian communities failed is informative, that they existed at all is substantial. Utopian thought can go wrong, we know, but it does not mean that that very human impulse towards creating something a bit better, be ignored.

Roll, then, on.