Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

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.

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.

Flaten Memorial Lecture: Noritaka Minami @ St. Olaf College Today (7pm)

I am extremely excited that Noritaka Minami will be coming from Chicago to give a talk here at St. Olaf College as part of the Flaten Memorial Lecture Series. I have been following his work since we were in the same critical theory courses in graduate school, and he continues to do amazing things in the field of photography. He uses the medium to explore the various histories and memories of specific sites, such as the Nakagin Capsule Tower in his latest book 1972. As the Nakagin Capsule Tower faces an uncertain fate, Noritaka looks to the actual future of the site while invoking the unrealized hopes for an alternative future embodied by Metabolist architecture. 1972 uses photography to traverse these overlapping temporalities, or as he describes, “a vision of the future from the past.”  My students will be examining his project in both the History of Photography and Arts of Japan this semester, but I am (personally) excited to hear about new directions in his work.

 

Date: 3/7/2016 (Monday)

Time: 7pm

Place: Dittmann Center 305, St. Olaf College

 

Noritaka will be talking about his path and process, so if you happen to be in Minneapolis, please join us and the Senior Studies students at St. Olaf College in an exploration of his work and career.

Remembering My First Study Abroad: Photos from 2005

Last week, I undertook a massive file purge of an old hard drive. It is amazing how one’s drive tends to mirror the state of one’s office… In my case, this means a creative disarray of folders that was once painstakingly organized according to a complex system that I no longer remember! But among the files, I found a treasure trove of old photographs from my very first study abroad in Japan, when I was an undergraduate at Ursinus College (slideshow above).

It was fun reliving the memories of friends met and places traveled over the course of 2005 to 2006. And my, how things have changed from that very first adventure! I remember when two volunteers picked up a very jet-lagged 19-year-old version of myself from Narita Airport to help me find my new dormitory and my university in Mitaka. They kept throwing me softballs–what is your favorite music? favorite movie? favorite food? I remember nodding along, trying to wrap my mind around the barrage of syllables that felt simultaneously foreign and familiar. Every so often an English loan word would grab my attention like a shining beacon until the rolling murmur of the language swallowed it whole once again. I remember feeling a combination of excitement and nervous anxiety about what that year would hold, like any student starting out on a study abroad with only a beginner’s knowledge of the language. But the shock and trepidation wore off quickly, and I began traveling. I found myself venturing to Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, investigating Japan’s natural features, and making my way to exhibition openings and basement galleries, often with friends and sometimes alone. It was a year that built character and sparked a love of art, travel, and photography. It also taught me about the challenges that my own students face upon departure.

I used to bring a little Canon point-and-shoot camera with me everywhere I went. This is something that remains the same today, even though I am now dragging around a beast of a DSLR. But here are some glimmers from that year before I had ever decided to go to graduate school and devote my professional career to the study of Japanese visual culture.

A Prototype of the Future from the Past: Noritaka Minami’s 1972 Kickstarter

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The video above is self-explanatory, but an amazing artist and dear friend of mine, Noritaka Minami,  needs help funding his photobook titled 1972, which explores the Nakagin Capsule Tower (中銀カプセルタワー, Nakagin Kapuseru Tawā) designed by Kurokawa Kisho (1934-2007) located in Chuo-ku, Tokyo. The tower embodied a vision for modern living enabled by Japan’s economic bubble, with 140 removable capsule apartments. Although an exciting exploration of the future in 1972, the tower and its history are now on the verge of disappearance. Nori has used photography to document the tower and the various states of individual capsules between 2010 and 2015 in response to this uncertainty over its preservation. This tower is important to the study of world architecture, in addition to the understanding of the Japanese Metabolist architectural movement. I’m looking forward to chatting with my students about the Nakagin Capsule Tower when I teach the history of world architecture this Fall.

716260c3ec25cece40b9f37eaef3647d_originalNori, who is currently a Teaching Fellow in Photography at the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University and Visiting Faculty Member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was an MFA student here at UC Irvine when I first met him in a critical theory seminar. I have always admired the various ways that his work asks us to thoughtfully engage with the past. I wrote a short essay some years ago on one of his previous projects, Past Won’t Pass, and I am greatly anticipating the publication of 1972.

(And as an added bonus, one of the essays featured in 1972 is written by Ken Yoshida, an art historian and alumni of the Visual Studies program here at UCI!)

EDIT: The project has met (and now surpassed) its goal! Looking forward to its publication![/vc_column_text][prkwp_spacer size=”25″][prk_wp_theme_button type=”theme_button large” prk_in=”1972 – Nakagin Capsule Tower Kickstarter” link=”https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/966561051/1972-nakagin-capsule-tower” window=”No”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Cruising Down Flower Road: Furano & Biei

Where did the rest of my summer go?!  It is hard for me to believe that I’ll be returning back to UC Irvine in less than a month’s time. Time certainly flies!  I have been busy tying up the loose ends of my research, and preparing my paper for the Nineteenth Century Workshop on the theme of “Circulation” to be held at Rutgers University this October. I am just about finished — time to have a glass of wine and relax.

AdobeRevel_SharedImage_6ee777754137402fb5d5fe21968c047bI’ve been trying to squeeze as much travel in as I can before I leave Hokkaido.  Last month, I went with some friends to visit Furano (富良野) and Biei (美瑛), cities known for their fields of flowers, particularly lavender. In comparison to some other tourist sites here in Hokkaido, Furano has a short history. The city’s name comes from the Ainu for fura-nui (“foul-smelling place”), possibly in relation to the sulfuric smell from Tokachi Peak. Biei on the other hand comes from the Ainu for piye (“greasy, oily”) which could relate to a sulfur mine near the source of the river, causing the water to take on a cloudy appearance. I find it interesting that the Ainu names sound less-than-beautiful considering that this is a tourist destination which packages and markets the beauty of nature!

Located in the exact center of Hokkaido, it has the nickname “Navel Town” (臍の町). It sits between the Tokachi Mountain Range (as part of Daisetsuzan National Park), and the Yuubari Peaks (including Ashibetsu). Cruising down Highway 237 (or “Flower Road,” 花人街道), there seems to be a limitless number of farms where you can buy Hokkaido milk products (of course), lavender, and melon. Delicious.

his_1976

JR Calendar featuring Tomita Farm, 1976

When I visit new places in Japan, I always like to check out how these sites are represented in late Meiji and Taisho postcards (as with this post). However, with Furano’s short history, there isn’t any to be found with the exception of views of Tokachi Peak. A train line didn’t even reach Asahikawa, the closest city, until 1900! Even the famous Farm Tomita did not begin cultivating lavender until 1958, with tourism picking up after the farm’s lavender fields were featured on a JR Calendar in 1976.

Kita no Kuni kara Poster, Japan Railways, 1988

Poster, Japan Railways, 1988

Like several “rustic” locations in Japan, it also seems that tourism picked up following the famous drama, Kita no Kuni kara (北の国から) set in the Rokugo area, which began airing on Fuji Terebi in 1981. (For the curious: Click for Episode 1) This drama was also followed up by two others (Yasashii Jikan, 2005; Kaze no Gaaden, 2008).

Sapporo in Spring

After surviving the rough winter here in Hokkaido, the layers of snow gave way to tulips and spring. The city is beautiful right now. It feels like everyone is shedding their winter shell, and donning sunglasses for the first time since I arrived. I don’t think I have never appreciated spring as much as I do at this very moment.  The 55th annual Lilac Festival began yesterday in Odori Koen, and if I can find some free time between my research, I definitely want to head over to check it out.  However, spring also reminds me that my time here is quickly flying before my eyes.  I’m going to savor every last drop of my time here!

Twin Time Travel: Isabella Bird

Today I went with two friends to see the exhibition “イサベラ・バードの旅の世界―ツイン・タイム・トラベル” (In the Footsteps of Isabella Bird: Adventures in Twin Time Travel). The exhibition featured photographs taken by Japanese professor of geography, Kanasaka Kiyonori (金坂清則, University of Kyoto) over the course of 10 years following the footsteps of Victorian explorer Isabella Bird. This traveling exhibition has now been to several locations along Bird’s route around the world including the National Library of Scotland (2005), The Oriental Club (London, 2008), University of Dundee (2008, Australia), the Hawai’i State Library (2011, USA), and recently, The Hokkaido University Museum (2014, Japan).

According to a press release in the Japan Times (2006), Kanasaka has translated several of Birds’ travel works into Japanese and adopts the concept of “twin time travel” as a methodology that allows him to visit sites from a century earlier and examine lines of continuity or change in the landscape and urban structure. According to that article, although geographers typically do not focus on a single person as the basis for the research, Bird’s exploits formed an interesting microcosmic study. Her vivid descriptions of distant locales are certainly compelling, even today, and Kanasaka explains that Bird’s work serves doubly as both travel writing and historical document.

uid000025_20140328132232526769deThe exhibition was divided into two sections on the 1st and 3rd floors (divided by a melange of exhibits about everything from paleontology to wax models of skin diseases). The contemporary and nineteenth-century photos/illustrations were stacked vertically, with Kanasaka’s photographs usually taking the top register. A small plaque accompanied each set of works containing the title of the work, the book in which it was found, and then a small quotation from the relevant book in both English and Japanese. Following the prescribed route between the rooms, one could easily see the transition between the illustrated volumes in the beginning, and Bird’s own photography towards the end, but there wasn’t much in the way of commentary. The third floor also displayed some of Bird’s original books behind glass, and Japanese translations available to read. One corner focused on the exhibition history of the show, posting various press releases from around the world.

My own feeling wandering around the exhibition space was that this was a story of Kanasaka’s adventure more than that of Bird. While the photographs do cause us to think about issues of mutability and continuity in the physical landscape, the element that felt missing in this exhibition was a nod towards the robust world that Bird herself cited from. And when thought of in this way, Bird herself becomes a vehicle for the contemporary traveler.

Villa at Lake Chuzenji, Japan.  Photo by Kanasaka Kiyonori.

Villa at Lake Chuzenji,
Japan. Photo by
Kanasaka Kiyonori.

However, perhaps scholars do “twin time travel” all the time in their own work without even realizing it. In my own case, after locating nineteenth-century photographs taken by Arnold Genthe, my curiosity couldn’t sway me visiting the towns he also visited in Hokkaido. But Genthe himself may have modeled some of his own photographs taken in 1908 on the illustrations of A.H. Savage Landor published in 1893, who in turn, had an eye on Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks of 1880. In that sense, although the way that the photographs are presented in the exhibition invites a one-to-one comparison, perhaps a more productive way to view them is as new additions to a diverse and long-standing economy of tourist images. When looked at from that perspective, perhaps the real question we should be asking is not about change, but the continuity of the “view”? Despite changes in technology and landscape, why do we seek to recapture a certain nostalgic “sameness” in our travel photogrpahs?

Noboribetsu’s Jigokudani: Frozen Hell

Noboribetsu (登別; comes from the Ainu word nupur-pet for “dark-colored river”) is just one of those strange places where the natural landscape utterly fascinates me. My latest trip was in the beginning of March, and I was amazed at how different the landscape looked after having visited in early winter and summer. In February, the alien landscape of Jikokudani (地獄谷, lit. “Hell Valley”) was covered in a layer of glistening snow, with the powder forming what could only be called “snow bubbles” around the various heat sources. With no trees blocking the path, small crystals of diamond dust swirled over the mounds, mixing with bursts of steam. However, in early March, much of the snow had melted to reveal the red crust of the earth, introducing a beautiful contrast of orange against the cool blue hue of the lingering snow. All of this looks quite different from the summer landscape of orange, yellow, and red against the background of a lush green forest (a view that is found on most tourist postcards).

Seasons of Noboribetsu

Screenshot 2014-03-14 21.10.21 (2)_editedThere are a number of postcards of Noboribetsu found in Hakodate City Central Library‘s digital archive (デジタル資料館), one of my favorite resources for old Japanese postcards.  Although the more artistic renderings of Jigokudani are definitely compelling, I am always fascinated by the process-printed kitsch postcards that adopt the rainbow colors of a surreal landscape. The real colors (which, at times, can seem just as alien) are eschewed entirely. High drama, indeed. I believe that this particular set was put out by a popular tourist shop, Kisendou (貴泉堂), that still exists on the main street of Noboribetsu’s onsen town today. I couldn’t get close enough to confirm the printing process, but The Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City has a wonderful website breaking down these processes for the curious.

I always enjoy checking out old postcards from places that I visit. When looking at various views of Jigokudani, I was shocked to see people playing in the mounds amongst the stream and sulfur!  Now you are limited to a wooden footbridge that takes you into the heart of hell…

css.php