Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Presentation: Asian Architecture in Fantasy MMORPG’s @ the Popular Culture Association

I can’t believe the national Popular Culture Association conference is upon us again — I feel like I was just putting my paper together for last year’s conference. I’m excited to be presenting on a Game Studies panel dedicated to (Re)defining Gaming. The presentation is coming together and I’m ready to hop in the car for this long ride to Indianapolis. (I’m just hoping that I can fight off this cold!)

For those interested…

The Logistics:
Time: Friday, March 30, 2018 – 8:00am to 9:30am
Place: White River H, J.W. Marriott in Indianapolis, IN (Popular Culture Association)
Panel: GAMESTUDIES XI: (Re)Defining Gaming
Title: Vaguely Oriental: Engineering Asian Architecture in Fantasy MMORPGs

Abstract:
In his seminal work Orientalism (1978), Edward Said famously described the reified concept of the “Orient” as “the stage on which the whole East is confined.” He explains that, “On this stage will appear the figures whose role it is to represent the larger whole from which they emanate. The Orient then seems to be, not an unlimited extension beyond the familiar European world, but rather a closed field, a theatrical stage affixed to Europe.”

This paper pursues Said’s original line of thinking in massively multiplayer online role-playing games within the fantasy genre. When immersing one’s self in an MMORPG, the city and the backdrop forms a kind of “stage.” Reading Said literally in this sense, I will analyze the construction of these theatrical spaces with an approach that combines architectural analysis from the field of art history with the study of race representation in game studies. I will offer a different analysis of race representation that transcends the roles of in-game characters. The visual settings of MMORPGs like Ragnarok Online, The World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood challenge us by creating specific locales that are read by the player as “Asian” or “vaguely Oriental” within story narratives that harken back to fantasy worlds based in the Western tradition. I want to envision the stakes as well as the creative possibilities enabled by such design.

Impermanence of Sand: Teaching Tibetan Sand Mandalas

We are moving on to Vajrayana Buddhism in Buddhist Art & Architecture and we created individual sand mandalas to commemorate the occasion. The goal was to not only understand what a mandala is, but how they can embody the idea of visualization, meditation, and impermanence in a Tibetan context. We’ll look at an actual preserved sand mandala at the Minneapolis Institute of Art on Wednesday. I just wanted to share the colorful fruits of my students’ labor!

  • Mandala by G.M.

    Mandala by G.M.

  • Mandala by C.H.

    Mandala by C.H.

  • Mandalas by M.K. (left) and D.T. (right)

    Mandalas by M.K. (left) and D.T. (right)

  • Mandala by N.X.

    Mandala by N.X.

  • Destruction can be just as beautiful as creation. Mandala by L.A.

    Destruction can be just as beautiful as creation. Mandala by L.A.

  • Our collective labor! Tossed to the wind.

    Our collective labor! Tossed to the wind.

The Life Cycle of the City: Photography and Urbanism after Disaster @ MiA

I received an invitation from the Curator of Photography and New Media at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Yasufumi Nakamori, to attend a symposium that coincided with the exhibition of Naoya Hatakeyama’s photographs titled Excavating the Future City. I last saw Hatakeyama’s work in 2009, and I was excited about the opportunity to hear him speak and to see the show. I am so grateful that two of my students could come with me — the conversations and images were of the sort that left you in a strange contemplative space with a want and a need to talk to someone. I was glad that we could hash out these difficult ideas together.

Hatakeyama used his keynote talk to think through his own position as a photographer and his relationship to 3/11 disaster, which consisted of an earthquake, a tsunami, and a subsequent nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima Daiichi in March 2011. Hatakeyama’s hometown was a small fishing town named Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture, which was directly impacted by the tsunami. Hatakeyama’s talk vacillated between extremes — between life and death, between insider and outsider, and between the past and the future. Hatakeyama’s slow and deliberate delivery was set against quickly changing slides featuring his photographs. He asked us how we consider works like this that are factual, but not photojournalism. Images that exist between art and something deeper. Photographs that render us speechless.

Hatakeyama began by showing us photos that he had taken in Rikuzentakata before the tsunami. This record of a town and its life was not in preparation for the tsunami, and yet the images were filled with ghosts. Our relationship with the people and sites in the photos cause us to think about what was lost. Hatakeyama also discussed his own personal grief surrounding the loss of his mother and his hometown, both of which cannot be retrieved. Even during the rebuilding process, the local government will never be able to reconstruct traditional homes and historical sites because of an aging population and a slow, but steady, exodus from rural areas to the more urban Tokyo. It would be rebuilt in a new manner befitting the current residents, who will remember a history that was physically ingrained in and then erased from the landscape.

What was powerful to me was the process of thinking through the various personal relationships we have to disaster. Victims of a disaster extend far beyond the immediate flood zones. Hatakeyama felt very much affected by the tsunami, and yet, was perceived as an outsider by those who directly experienced it in Rikuzentakata. It is a strange sensation to feel so intensely connected to an event, even to the extent of losing one’s parent, but to be on the outside looking in at the physical trauma to the people and the land. And there is that nagging and ever-present sense of “what if” that lingers — what if I had been in my parent’s house; what if I had never left.

Two engaging panels followed the keynote. The first focused on issues of representation. We hard from Anne Wilkes Tucker, a curator emerita of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Gennifer Weisenfeld, a professor of art history and visual studies and Dean of the Humanities at Duke University, and Manny Fernandez, the New York Times Houston Bureau Chief who covered Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. Weisenfeld is an academic hero of mine (I saw a talk by her at UPenn when I was in undergrad, believe it or not). I thought it was valuable to think through not only the power of images, but how they often work in concert with each other to further some message or story about disaster.

The second panel focused on architecture and urban planning around issues of disaster and crisis. It featured Shohei Shigematsu, an architect and OMA Partner whose work includes an urban water strategy for New Jersey post-Hurricane Sandy, Kate Knuth, the former Chief Resilience Officer at City of Minneapolis, and William Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. As an art historian, I was really intrigued to think about the relationship of visual culture to policy making in today’s world.

After the symposium wrapped up, my students and I went upstairs to see the exhibition, which was impressive. I needed far longer than one hour to process everything in the room and plan on going back soon. One of my students had never really seen (or even seen the point) of seeing photography in an exhibition before that day. I hope that the experience changed her perception of how the exhibition context can change our relationship to photographs that we sometimes take for granted when seen online or in a book. There is a flat, but tactile quality to the image that is hard to express. We spent a long time looking at details, colors, and the use of line in his earlier works on limestone quarries — it was easy to talk about those aesthetically. But the transition to his work on Rikuzentakata really underscored the issue of how we read and comprehend images of disaster.

Welcome to Version 3: My Illustrated Life

Redesigning a website feels a little bit like cleaning my house. It progressively gets “messy” to the point that I can’t stand it anymore, I drop everything, and then clean it from top to bottom. Once I begin the process, there is no stopping me, and it consumes every moment of free time until the project is complete. Then, I collapse into a pile on the floor admiring my sparkling living space.

So from my prone position, welcome to Version 3 of my online portfolio/cv/blog. I tend to live with my site layouts for some time. I get excited when I first implement them, grow into them, and eventually grow out of them. Especially as I grow and shift in my career and interests, the site needs to respond in kind. This latest version better showcases the various hats I wear as an academic, a teacher, and a digital humanist. The website features illustrations that I created of myself and my interests through an app called Assembly that my student M introduced to me just before winter break. Although I’m trained in Illustrator, there is something delightfully fun about pinching and zooming my way to an illustration.

The site has a flat, minimalist style and is a LOT snappier than the previous version. Let me know your thoughts below.

Mapping Isabella Bird: Geolocation & Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880) — A New Digital Resource

I can’t properly put into words how happy it makes me to officially add this link to Mapping Isabella Bird to the site. It is a project that has been in the making since 2015, and one that really came together in the last two years since arriving at St. Kate’s. I have long wanted to create a comprehensive resource for students and researchers studying Bird’s travelogue Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), and this website has a little bit for everyone–Literary Studies, Art History, Asian Studies, Japanese Studies, Ainu Studies, Tourism Studies, and Geography.Putting the site together reminded me why I became fascinated with Bird in the first place: her work manages to serve as a resource in so many disciplines and her legacy keeps on. The release of the site is timely with a special issue titled “Isabella Bird, Victorian globalism, and Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880)” appearing in vol. 21 of Studies in Travel Writing (2017). I’m looking forward to working my way through these essays.

Mapping Isabella Bird was built with Scalar 2, a digital publishing platform developed by the University of Southern California. I first learned about Scalar (then in its first iteration) as a graduate student at UC Irvine. The ability to annotate media made it particularly attractive to me, and I knew it would work well for this project. The website can be navigated in a variety of ways — through the path at the bottom of the home page or through the drop-down menu in the top left. You will find interactive maps created on ArcGIS, CARTO, and Google Maps, which build on tabular data culled from the books. You will also find an image gallery that is slowly being annotating with original source images (and if you are interested, I am always looking for help tracking these photographs down!) The website also deliberately highlights Bird’s travel in Hokkaido and the Ainu in the Saru River Valley today in a recognition of their adaptation and development over time. I remain committed to recognizing the present of the Ainu in addition to their past.

What’s next? I’m in the process now of designing some sample assignments using the various resources of the site for secondary and higher education. Some will be for use in Art History classroom while others will fit will into a syllabus on Japanese History. Many will be paired with chapters of the travelogue. I hope that the resource will be useful for years to come for others who remain curious about Bird and her Japanese journey in 1878.

You can access the project directly via the menu on the left. If you find it useful, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Reflections from American Historical Association 2018

Representing St. Kate’s at #AHA2018

It is the day before the last day of the American Historical Association conference 2018. I’ve got my chai in hand, my presentation finished, and my swag from the exhibition hall in tow. All in all a great time. It has been a great conference for making new connections and reconnecting with some old friends from UCI in History and Asian Studies.

The panel that I presented on, #s98 Optics: Race, Religion, and Technology in East Asian Photography, 1868-1949, had a great synergy:

 

Christina M Spiker, “Reproducing Alterity: Photography, Illustration, and the Maintenance of Ainu Stereotypes in Meiji and Taisho Japan

Paul D. Barclay, “Picture Postcards of Imperial Japan’s Peoples and Places”

Matthew Combs, “Reframing China: Kodak and the Growth of Amateur Photography, 1920-45”

Joseph W. Ho, “Framing Chaos: Contingency, Community, and American Missionary Visual Practices in Wartime China”

 

There were surprising connections between Paul’s work and my own, Joe and Matt shared a “Kodak Connection,” and Joe’s presentation made me really reconsider the role of Reverend John Batchelor in Ainu representation. Plus Joe let us play with old cameras that he reconstructed. An extremely cool opportunity for any photography and material culture buff! I would love to get my hands on some for the classroom.

Congratulations to editors Kristen Chiem and Lara Blanchard and all contributors! I spotted our book in the Brill booth at #AHA2018

I had the opportunity to attend and tweet some interesting panels: #s29 Digital Projects Lightning Round, #s142 Resistant and Receptive, Insiders and Outsiders: Native Peoples and the Making of Early Modern Indigenous Sovereignty, Colonial Subjects, and Slaves, #s214 Displaying the Nation: Visions of Past and Future in Modern Japan. Tomorrow morning I will see my friend Yidi Wu’s presentation on #s264 Grassroots Activism in 20th-Century Asia: Lessons from Russia, China, and North Vietnam and if I have time I will head to #s310 Empire, Race, and Sovereignty in Hawai’i From Kingdom to Statehood. There has been very little downtime!

In the exhibition hall, I also had the rare opportunity to spot a book that I contributed to in the Brill booth. This was a first for me and I am immensely proud of the work that everyone put in!

 

Some issues that I’ve been thinking a lot about as we wrap things up:

  • The conference has allowed me to clearly see the value and contributions of my own discipline. I value the many contributions by history — my work is not possible without them. But there is a true art to visual analysis that can bring a presentation alive. Images are sources in an of themselves and paying attention to their stories can open us up to new lines of inquiry. I’ve seen a lot of interesting archival material this trip — from maps to advertisements to video — and I keep thinking that asking “what” the images show is only part of the equation. We need to ask “how” they mean what they do. To quote W. J. T. Mitchell’s essay that my students grappled with all semester, “What do Pictures Really Want?” So in sum, conference has been a valuable opportunity for defining myself as a scholar outside of my own field.
  • The most interesting papers to listen to are those that still have questions to ask. I’ve seen a wide range of papers this trip — from presentations based on recently published work to real works in progress. And as a listener, I enjoy thinking through some of the problems alongside the speaker. The audience has so much to contribute, but there needs to be space to do so. I’m not a perfectionist by any means, but it encourages me to leave some areas open to debate so that I can benefit from the insight and observations of those around me.
  • And finally, a question. How can recognize the violence of the archive? This was a question asked by a few of the papers that I heard (such as the lightening paper by Anelise Shrout and a paper about Tupi language(s) in Eastern South America by M. Kittiya Lee). The types of information (and the organizations collecting it) often contribute to forms of historical erasure. I need to meditate more deeply on this issue within my own work.

 

Looking forward to enjoying tomorrow and then seeing some family before returning home to St. Paul to prepare for Spring Semester.

Essay Publication on Illustration & Photography of Ainu in Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, 1880

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my essay “‘Civilized’ Men and ‘Superstitious’ Women: Visualizing the Hokkaido Ainu in Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks, 1880” in the new edited volume titled Gender, Continuity, and the Shaping of Modernity in the Arts of East Asia, 16th­­–20th Centuries (Leiden: Brill, 2017). The book was edited by Kristen L. Chiem (Pepperdine University) and Lara C. W. Blanchard (Hobart & William and Smith Colleges), who were both awesome to work with throughout this entire process. Overall, the book features work by Lara C. W. Blanchard, Kristen L. Chiem, Charlotte Horlyck, Ikumi Kaminishi, Nayeon Kim, Sunglim Kim, Radu Leca, Elizabeth Lillehoj, Ying-chen Peng, and myself. Here is the official blurb for the book:

Gender, Continuity, and the Shaping of Modernity in the Arts of East Asia, 16th–20th Centuries explores women’s and men’s contributions to the arts and gendered visual representations in China, Korea, and Japan from the premodern through modern eras. A critical introduction and nine essays consider how threads of continuity and exchanges between the cultures of East Asia, Europe, and the United States helped to shape modernity in this region, in the process revealing East Asia as a vital component of the trans-Pacific world. The essays are organized into three themes: representations of femininity, women as makers, and constructions of gender, and they consider examples of architecture, painting, woodblock prints and illustrated books, photography, and textiles.

The book is the second volume in Brill’s series Gendering the Trans-Pacific World: Diaspora, Empire, and Race. The first volume titled after the series was edited by Catherine Ceniza Choy (UC Berkeley) and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (UC Irvine) this past March. Combined, there are so many insightful contributions to the study of gender in this region. My reading list is ever expanding.

I’m excited about my own contribution to this volume for a few reasons. The essay, which derives from the first chapter of my dissertation, looks closely at the role of photography and illustration in the 1880 publication Unbeaten Tracks in Japan written by explorer and naturalist Isabella Lucy Bird (1851–1904). She is often best known for her travel to Hokkaido and her time spent among the Ainu there. In volumes that contain the word “East Asia” in the title, narratives that concern the creation by and representation of indigenous peoples in Asia are often excluded. We need to do better in this regard to recognize their stories and images as integral to the fabric of the region. I see my research as a small step in this regard. But being concerned chiefly with images produced of the Ainu, rather than by, it highlights the need for more indigenous voices to round out these ideas of how indigenous identity was complicated and complimented by notions of Asianness in the Pacific. Personally, the essay represents a huge accomplishment as well. I wrote the first draft while living in Hokkaido, Japan, and it reminds me of my archival research in the Northern Studies Collection in the Hokkaido University Library. (It also reminds me of all the time spent in local Sapporo coffee shops typing away on my half-broken laptop). In the essay, I also take an interdisciplinary approach that I feel is representative of what I always wanted from Visual Studies. It some senses, the method taken is a culmination of my degree and my time at the University of California, Irvine.

I’m happy to answer questions about the book, the work, or the research involved — just #AMA below. The abstract for my essay can be found here.

Meiji-era Prints in the St. Kate’s Special Collections

Special Collections, St. Catherine University Library

I feel like I keep saying this a lot, but I’m often surprised about the treasures that are hidden in plain sight. When I first arrived at St. Kate’s, Heather Carroll, a graduate student in the Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS) Program, told me that we had a few Japanese prints hidden in the library’s Special Collections. It has taken us a year, but we finally picked a day to head down to the library to check them out. As we slowly lifted the prints off the cart, I quickly realized that “a few” was in reality MANY! I took study photographs of about 70 prints just this past October.

There are some exceptions (such as a few examples of sōsaku hanga), but most of the prints we found are Meiji-era (from between 1890 and 1899). A few different artists are represented, but we have a fair number from Chikanobu Yōshū (楊洲周延) (1838-1912) also known as Chikanobu Hashimoto or Chikanobu Toyohara (seen in the top example). Most of our prints at St. Kate’s come from a series about court ladies living in the Chiyoda Palace. As an artist, Chikanobu first studied Kano School painting before moving on to ukiyo-e, where he was a disciple of Keisai Eisen. Later he studied under Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi and then Kunisada. Many of our works have subject matter that hails from either earlier historical periods or from Japanese mythology, but we also have a few prints that conspicuously recognize the changing nature of Japan under modernization with red brick (akarenga) and the Emperor in Western military garb.

Special Collections, St. Catherine University Library

We are in the process of identifying the prints, assessing their condition, and looking for the original donor information. Together, we hope to figure out a better storage solution that will keep them laying flat and prevent them from curling. Long term, it would be great to put together some sort of exhibition to reintroduce these prints to the St. Kate’s community. We have some big idea, so stay tuned!

Student Rocky Pierson is Presenting at Mechademia 2017!

This year I am thrilled to be in attendance at Mechademia at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. The theme this year is Science Fictions. The CFP explains this notion in the following terms:

Science fiction gives us free rein to imagine a different world, giving us insight into what in our own world has become naturalized and allowing us the space to question the potentials of technologically enhanced futures. The questions provoked by science fiction strategies and forms often provide insights that lead us to imagine our own world in a different light. Mechademia 2017 focuses on Science Fictions. Science fiction is central to the study of Asian Popular Cultures because it is the key narrative formation of anime, and the subject of many manga volumes and video game narratives. We encourage papers that analyze science fiction tactics and narratives to explore themes regarding the way the geo-political, geo-economic climatic situation has been reflected, criticized, and made hypothetical through futuristic utopian/dystopian narratives in anime, manga, art, design, illustration, literature, film, and gaming.

 

I won’t be presenting this year, but I am so very proud that my undergraduate student Rocky Pierson (majoring in Electronic Media Studies at St. Thomas University and minoring in Graphic Design at St. Kate’s) will be presenting her insightful paper, “In the Age of Technology, the West Calls for a Separation of the Ghost and the Shell,” that explores Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Ghost in the Shell in contrast to Rupert Sanders’ 2017 adaptation. Rocky makes a fascinating argument how each film considers its potential audience with regard to the fear (or emancipatory potential) of technology. Her argument engages in both theology and philosophy as she considers the ontological importance of the cyborg body in each film’s visuals and narrative, while questioning how each views the possibilities of the post-human condition.

If you are interested in hearing Rocky’s paper, she is presenting on the 3rd panel at 9:45am on Saturday morning (9/23). She will be presenting alongside Genevieve Gamache, Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, and Andrea Horbinski.

Gachapon & Middle State Publishing

For curious eyes, I just published a brief essay titled “Should You Pull?: Gachapon, Risk, and Reward in Mobile Gaming” with First Person Scholar. I’m trying to historicize plastic capsule toy vending machines in Japan, or gachapon, while also thinking forward to their application in mobile games as a monetary model. The essay brings together cultural history with some examples of application where the physical meets the virtual. I hope you enjoy it! I couldn’t help but to throw some contemporary art in there too. I am an art historian, after all.

Working with First Person Scholar was an amazing experience, and a venture that I hope to continue as my path through visual culture helps me to connect art history with game studies. FPS is a “middle-state” publication. Described by Jason Hawreliak, this means a hybrid publication that addresses two of academia’s biggest downfalls: accessibility and speed. When dealing with material that is fast moving, like games tend to be, these kinds of publications are invaluable for presenting immediate critical reflections in a timely manner. The essays do not go through the rigor of the peer-review process, but are vetted and edited. In many ways, I see the AHTR Weekly of Art History Teaching Resources doing similar work with regard to pedagogy and art history. Personally, I think we need more of this kind of publication in academia, and we especially need this kind of work to be valued. The art world moves fast as well, and it would be great if some weight could be given to these kinds of immediate explorations, essays, and critical commentaries. I know the change needs to come at the level of what search committees value in order to encourage young scholars to take stock in these sorts of publications. But I have to say that there is something intensely satisfying about a quick turn around… Especially when our work gets stuck in typical publication cycles that can take anywhere from 1-3 years time from submission to publication. By the time something comes out, nobody cares…

I feel energized — what an awesome way to kick off the Fall Semester! I’m teaching Ways of Seeing and Art History: Renaissance through Modern this time around, so more about my in-class experiences soon!

 

Photo credit: MsSaraKelly Vending machines outside a games shop in Shinjuku via photopin (license).

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