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.

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.

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.

Presentation on Street Fighter II at Popular Culture Association

This really has been a crazy year for conferences/symposia. I will be giving a paper titled, “Chun-Li’s Qipao: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Fashion in Capcom’s Street Fighter II” on Friday, April 14th at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA). Our panel is Game Studies 8: Performing Identity. You can find us in Pacific Ballroom 14 from 9:45-11:15am at the Marriott Marquis Marina in San Diego, CA.

I’m very excited about this paper — it is the third paper in a series related to arcade fighting games, and a topic that I stumbled into after working on Ainu representations in the game Samurai Shodown. I began to realize that you can’t understand images of Ainu women in these games until you fully come to terms with one of the first successful female fighters in the arcade fighting genre. This paper adopts a slightly different approach than I have previously taken with an emphasis on fashion.

If you are planning to attend the conference, definitely be sure to register on the website. Once you make a profile, you will be able to add this panel to your schedule. Let me know if you are planning to be there so I can say hello! If you are from UC Irvine, there will also be presentations current and former people in Visual Studies (in order of appearance; if I’m missing people, please message me!):

Christina Spiker (graduated), “Chun-Li’s Qipao: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Fashion in Capcom’s Street Fighter II” (Friday, April 14, 9:45am — Pacific Ballroom 14)

Racquel M. Gonzales (current), “Policing Responsible Citizens: The Gamification of Crime Resistance in Children’s Table-Top Games” (Friday, April 14, 11:30am — Pacific Ballroom 14)

Kristen Galvin (graduated), “The New Music Television” (Saturday, April 15, 1:15pm — Pacific Ballroom 17)

Erik Watschke (graduated), “He Made the Whole World Laugh and Cry: Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin (1992) and the New Hollywood Mythologizing of the Early Film Artist” (Saturday, April 15, 1:15pm — La Costa)

Catherine L. Benamou (current professor), “From Joints to Jukeboxes’: Orson Welles and Afro-diasporic Culture as a Conduit for Inter-American Solidarity During World War II” (Saturday, April 15, 1:15pm — La Costa)

Lessons Learned from Mechademia 2016

Mechademia PosterWell, back to the grind after a crazy week of Asian pop culture madness. Mechademia was a lot of fun, and the weekend felt like such a whirlwind! Hard to believe it came and went. Here are some general reflections on the conference.

  • This year’s theme was “worldbuilding,” and the papers of the conference took unique approaches to the concept. From Leticia Andlauer‘s  ruminations on otome gemu and the ways that fans in France build their own worlds through avatar creation and imagined romance to artist/engineer Yuzuru Nakagawa‘s engagement with theories by Otsuka Eiji and Ito Go and his proposal for a new theory of animation from the artist’s perspective that embraces the technical necessity of realistic backdrops to support symbolic characters; it seemed that “worldbuilding” manifested in many surprising ways. Sean C. Hill asked us to interpret the world of Haruhi Suzumiya through a Jungian lens, radically changing the way we perceive the characters and the protagonist’s mind, while Cindi Textor sutured the global and the local in her exploration of the Korean animation Wonderful Days. The keynote lecture by Mark J. P. Wolf titled “Building a Better World: Utopias, Dystopias, and Imagined Futures” explored the history of visual representations of utopia and dystopia, and the potentiality of applying visionary thinking often found in movies and games to real world problems. Rather than remaining in the realm of textual analysis, Wolf challenged us to think beyond the fictional world to the real life applicability of invention and design.
  • In some ways, the conference represented an interdisciplinary crashing of worlds! It made concrete the fact that scholars and students who work on popular culture hail from many fields, and the study of these objects and communities cannot be bounded within a single disciplinary framework. We saw scholars from Asian Studies, Game Studies, English & Comparative Lit, Sociology, Communications, Psychology, Art and Art History, Media Studies, Film Studies, etc. On the one hand, this is liberating! On the other, it makes me realize that we have a lot of work to do to make our ideas truly relatable across disciplinary lines. At these kinds of conferences, it becomes crucial for each of us to do the rhetorical work necessary to make our ideas accessible, and I realize that everyone (including myself) has a way to go before hitting that sweet note.
  • Every conference should have a creative element. I think this is a real strength of Mechademia. Perhaps it is working in a combined Art/Art History department, but I am always thinking about how much I have to learn from my studio colleagues. The conference combined traditional academic panels with creative workshops (on digital painting, cosplay, etc), anime screenings, short film screenings, and a fashion show; and the synergy was something to behold. I think bearing witness to the creative process allows us to reflect back at our own scholarship as a creative act.
  • This was my first time live-tweeting an entire conference. I learned a lot through the process of doing it (although I still have a lot to learn from @racgonz, who introduced me to the idea). But it was a fun process to record the ephemerality of a conference and your evolving thoughts throughout the weekend. Somehow, it kept me on my toes as I thought through my questions for each panelist.

So that wraps up an action-packed weekend! I still feel like I need more feedback to recognize some of the shortcomings of my argument about Street Fighter II and Samurai Spirits, so I will be looking for a new venue to field some other aspects of the project. Slowly, my ideas are materializing…

Gender and Race in Street Fighter II and Samurai Shodown: Presentation at Mechademia

I am continuing my journey down the rabbit hole of Japanese arcade fighting games with a presentation at Mechademia: Conference on Asian Popular Cultures at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. The program is forthcoming, but I will be presenting “Fighting Stereotypes: Reimagining Gender and Race in Street Fighter II (1991) and Samurai Shodown (1993)” on September 25th. Our panel is on the Global and Local, and runs from 10-12pm.

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I have had a personal goal of participating in Mechademia in some way, shape, or form ever since I began teaching Japanese visual culture. My students at both UC Irvine and St. Olaf College took well to the myriad essays found in the Mechademia series, which I hear they are rebooting with Mechademia 2.0, Volume 1 of the Second Arc on “Childhood.” I find many of the readings to be accessible to undergraduates, and they went a long way in offering alternative interpretations of the works we were screening in class. I hope that I will have an opportunity to use the series as a resource here at St. Kate’s. Regardless, it scares me to think that I’ve been reading essays from Mechademia since just before I entered graduate school… How time flies… Has it really been that long?

While my paper at Console-ing Passions focused primarily on Ainu representation in Samurai Shodown and its relationship to indigenous activism through the 1990s, the work I am presenting at Mechademia explores a different avenue of inquiry (although Nakoruru, Rimururu, and Mamahaha will still make a significant appearance). My preliminary research on arcade fighting games in Japan taught me one important lesson: there isn’t too much work being done in that arena. But games like Street Fighter II have so much potential to explore as both domestic and international products. While playing at world-building (and, in some cases, destroying), they also negotiate notions of gender and race with combat strength and Cold War politics. My paper will take a look at the image of Chun-Li in Street Figher II and Nakoruru of Samurai Shodown in an effort to start a conversation about the aesthetics of race and gender in the genre. It is an invigorating break from editing this chapter on the 19th century. So for now, I leave you with this epic image of Chun-Li about to kick butt as only she knows how.

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Lessons Learned from Console-ing Passions 2016

Well, I returned from the Console-ing Passions Conference at Notre Dame without any hardship, and I had a wonderful time exploring topics that are very much foreign territory for me. I think we, as academics, can learn a ton by attending and participating in events that are outside of our field, even if slightly. Here are my takeaways.

  • There was a lot of good discussion about issues of representation in everything from television to film to video games. Even my own paper focused on indigenous representation as frame of analysis. But during the forum “Back to Black: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Media Industries,” Kristen J. Warner (University of Alabama, @kristenwarner) was reflecting on representations of blackness on TV and asked a question of the audience that has stuck with me: “Does representation even matter?” Do we cede ground in the fight when we accept a plastic or superficial representation just for the sake of diversity, rather than fighting for a nuanced, complex, and dynamic representation of race and gender. When so many arguments revolve around seeing diversity on TV in a visual manner, what happens when these fictional characters lose the texture of their culture, and the only thing authentic about them is literally surface? And is this really okay with us? Throughout the panels, this was a question that kept sneaking its way in to conversations, and one that I’m grappling with presently…
  • Another issue that was raised by presenters like Ron Krabill (University of Washington, Bothell) was regarding participatory media and a notion of radical reciprocity. He investigated the rhetoric of “global citizenship” ever present in college and university mission statements, and how this notion of becoming a global citizen is paired with creating global subjects. We strive to educate and “culture” students, and sending them abroad is a major component to this puzzle, but I do often find that students come back and talk about their own experiences and what they saw, rather than the communities they engaged with and people they met. I wonder why we do not discuss reciprocity in the discipline of art history or visual culture? How can we encourage this deeper kind of collaboration between students of different cultures so it is not just about a singular “experience”? After all, visual culture travels, and there is a lot of untapped potential in comparing different cultural approaches to its creation and analysis.
  • But the last thing that struck me was how much work needs to be done in other cultural contexts. The conference was great in so many ways, but many of the panels (and media studies/TV studies itself) seemed to be very focused on the United States. As the keynote, Aniko Imre (University of Southern California) explained, we often forget that media like television permeated a variety of cultures, including those east of the wall. She discussed soap operas in Eastern Europe (work that comes out of her new book, TV Socialism), and what fascinated me was how certain genres such as the soap opera take on entirely new dimensions when examined in a Czech, Polish, or Hungarian context. In effect, it destabilizes certain reified definitions of genre. Even in my own classroom on Japanese visual culture, my students watch portions of Japanese TV (commercials and all), and they are occasionally surprised at how the experience of watching television can be so radically different from their own. This kind of analysis raises crucial questions regarding how the medium itself communicates across space, and in the case of Imre’s work, challenges our perceptions of how TV under socialism operates.

The conference was enlightening for me, and I’m looking forward to engaging more explicitly with scholarship in this vein when I teach visual culture. I’ll be curious to see how different this will be from work that explicitly focuses on Japan at this year’s Mechademia at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

 

Ainu and Video Games: Presentation at Console-ing Passions

This paper is a bit of a “break” from my recent research on visual and material culture in the late Meiji period. I will be chairing a panel at Console-ing Passions (International Conference on Television, Video, Audio, New Media and Feminism) on Japanese visual culture, with papers presented by Colleen Laird from Bates College (“Screened and Not Heard: The Transnational Treasure Text of Kikuchi Rinko”), and Sho Ogawa of the University of Kansas (“Internalizing Hybridity: Japan’s Gay Boom and Reconfiguring National Identity”). Our diverse panel will explore the convergence between media and gender studies in and out Japan.

Nakoruru’s stage background in the original Samurai Spirits (1993). Nothing like an Ainu man and woman surrounded by forest friends…

The paper I’m presenting is titled “Recasting the Indigenous: Virtual Ainu Ambassadors in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993-2008.” This project has been on the back burner for a little while, but it is fun to get back into contemporary visual culture for a bit. I will be discussing the role of two female Ainu video game characters–Nakoruru and Rimaruru–from the video game Samurai Spirits (Samurai Shodown in the US). As the title hints, I have been trying to think through the role of these characters as cultural ambassadors in 1990s Japan. The topic feels timely with the impending creation of the new Ainu museum in Shiraoi in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where the marketing of Ainu culture will undoubtedly be important for Hokkaido tourism. In addition to investigating their domestic popularity, I’m also looking at the localization of these characters in the US. This is inspired by a class that I just finished teaching, Visual Culture in Modern Japan, where issues of localization kept creeping into our discussions. I’ve been thinking long and hard about the transformation of Ainu/indigenous visual signifiers when transported abroad to a culture with no framework to understand them.

楽しみにしています。

Presentation at Art Historians of the Twin Cities Symposium

art_history_symposiumI am thrilled to present some of the work I’ve been doing on Japanese artist Kondō Kōichiro at the Art Historians of the Twin Cities symposium this April 2nd (Saturday). I’ll be exploring the work of Kondō Kōichiro, who traveled to Hokkaido in 1917 and depicted the Ainu in the village of Shiraoi in manga caricatures published the same year in the Yomiuri Newspaper. Kondō’s work gives us an interesting look at the role of tourism in these indigenous communities, and from the perspective of a tourist, his visual representations are quite different from any “ethnographic” work being done in the area! Although the project originally derives from the 4th chapter of my dissertation, I will be working out some new ideas and approaches to his material that I developed after coming to St. Olaf College. It is like revisiting an old friend! If you are in the area, please feel free to join us to hear about what Art Historians in the Twin Cities are up to! There are a lot of exciting papers, and it is a great opportunity to hear about the research of many local art historians.

Date: April 2nd, 2016

Time: 10am – 3pm

Location: St. Catherine’s University, Visual Arts Building, Room 102, 2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul, MN

Recomposition

VS Recomposition Conference 2015It is that time of year again! This year’s annual Visual Studies Graduate Conference, themed “Recomposition,” is taking place at UC Irvine on April 3rd in Humanities Gateway 1030. Several colleagues of mine will be presenting papers if you are in the area.

The conference adopts the following interpretation of “recomposition”:

This theme explores cultural articulations of “recomposition” as a material, social, and aesthetic principle. Recomposition refers to a physical or material phase change, a process that oscillates uneasily between decay and regeneration. As opposed to the more negative “decomposition,” Recomposition requires an attention to processes of regrowth. In science, the laws of the conservation of matter and energy demands that whatever is lost must be gained elsewhere. Accordingly, Recomposition maintains that decay and growth, loss and gain, degeneration and regeneration must exist on a shifting continuum.

After a generative think-tank on the theme, the committee solicited papers along the lines of the following key phrases: deterioration, illness and death, uncounted objects and/or bodies, generative decay, weak affects, media archeology, aporia, active negation, dispossession, survival, endurance, conundrums of solidarity, governmentality of “crisis”, abandonment, ecological dilemmas, ruptures in history and temporality, dark economies, censorship and redaction.

Full schedule if you are interested!

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