MFA to GSU: Katherine Cunningham

Faculty Work Then & Now

GSU Photo faculty member Katherine Cunningham has been exploring the intersections of art, science, and the spiritual through her work for more than a decade. Her thoroughly researched projects trace a recurring human desire, almost a need, for simple explanations of complex phenomena. Often these answers are sought through the lens of science, which purports to be rational, or spirituality, which attempts to harness the irrational. Myriad cultures and communities have declared their identities through a shared search for meaning that, inevitably, transforms into belief that they have found conclusive answers. Cunningham investigates these groups with an interest in how they create a lifestyle from these identities, and how they turn their answers into actions.

From Cunningham’s artist statement
“The language of rational objectivism and materialist science are designed to offer the comfort of truth. Such things do not bind the dark complexity of the human spirit. The core of my work contains these conflicts, ideological certainty versus the traces of the irrational, and always, always the search for alternatives.” 

Then 

With God on Their Side
MFA thesis exhibition, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame
2008

This installation attempts to deconstruct the visual imagery utilized by monotheistic fundamentalist groups to mythologize and promote their faith, while also seeking to understand the appeal of ideology for women. I focused on Evangelical Protestantism in America, Religious Zionism in Israel, and Militant or Jihad-based Islam in Egypt and Iran.

The audio and visual content for the video montages are appropriated from video networking sites such as YouTube, GodTube, JewTube, and IslamTube. The last three sites cater to a niche market of religiously minded individuals, which seem to imply for the participants, communication with like-minded peers. As such, the source footage reveals an often raw, unmitigated look into the visual structure utilized by fundamentalists for fundamentalists in order to affirm beliefs through a common language.

 

 

 

Now

Utopia Remains

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 tourist attractions, but most have been completely wiped from the historical map. This is an archival project, and as it continues will seek to encompass the communities of Indiana, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.

I want these places to be recorded, if only to say that at this place, at one time, desire became 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, the wealthy, the devout, the free, and just as equally those who were 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.

Click the image for more information about the community

Equality. Ultrachrome print, text panel. 2016. Image courtesy the artist.
New Harmony. Ultrachrome print, text panel. 2016. Image courtesy the artist.
Rising Star Association. Ultrachrome print, text panel. 2016. Image courtesy the artist.