Utopiana Project



New Harmony, Indiana 2006-7

Claiming Public Space

Mary Beth Edelson is artist in residence in New Harmony, Indiana, for one month in 2006, and then again in 2007, presenting a project and workshop titled Utopiana. Phase one in 2006 has two focuses: first, to practice a utopian inspired working process within the workshop itself, and second, to create the concepts for the second phase in 2007 when Edelson returns for another month.

The organizing principle behind developing this collaborative project, and workshop, is the question, “What is utopian in our culture today that we do not recognize as such?” To start the dialogue with the community, boxes were distributed around New Harmony asking this question and inviting written responses. Their replies were considered together with the workshop’s, and Edelson’s creative concepts, when formulating Utopiana for 2007. The projects created by the Utopiana workshop group for 2007 are as follows:

Three proposals for 2007 production in New Harmony: 1. A public space designed to add street life to the heart of New Harmony is being designed with seating, tables and internet access located parallel with Main St. in Maclure Square. In addition, a kiosk is planned for posting community information, and a much needed public toilet for this area.

2. Redbud Park, on the site of the former historic tavern, and next to the current Yellow Tavern, is proposed to be developed into a public space. The first stage is to install seating and open access from Church Street by removing some of the fence which currently blocks entrance to the park.

3. Beginning as an exhibition, benches with historical quotes from New Harmony’s past history of utopian experiments juxtaposed with contemporary quotes will be engraved into the benches to generate a dialogue between the past and the present. We propose that these quotes will stimulate further contemplation and conversation on the subject of utopia. The benches will be placed around the town and rotated monthly. At the end of the rotation cycle, the benches will be auctioned off as a fundraiser for the project.

The title Utopiana, fused the words Indiana with utopia to create a compound word. This is just what Thomas Moore did in 1516 when he coined the original word utopia by fusing the Greek ou meaning not, and the Latin noun topis meaning place, which literally means no place. Utopia was then used as the title of one of his books, which was an ironic comparison of the ills of the Europe of his day with the imagined exemplary Utopia.

Quotes from Story Gathering Box “Utopia exists only in the realm of possibilities.” “Spend as much on what makes peace as we do on war, and see what happens.” “When you have utopia do you also have racism?” “The ideal of utopia brings out the best in us.” “It amazes me that we don’t kill each other every day.” “A utopian ideal would be finally having a women president of the United States.” (See artworks for images of the workshop and process)

Utopiana is sponsored by the New Harmony Gallery of Art with University of Southern Indiana. Workshop participants include twenty students, faculty, gallery staff and New Harmony residence who met five days a week for a month to create three project proposals for 2007.