Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

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.

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.

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!

St. Kate’s Scholar’s Retreat: The Virtues of Writing Socially

During the school year, I always bemoan a lack of time and yearn for summer days when I will be totally free to write that latest book proposal / article / essay / blog / conference abstract… And yet, every time the summer comes, I find it hard to find the focus and motivation to get work done. I know that I’m not alone in my struggles, as it seems to be one of the most common topics of commiseration among faculty both old and new. But I can never help feeling like I am struggling along in front of an empty Word .doc. And before I know it, the summer comes to a close as we turn our attention towards course preps and upcoming departmental meetings. The summer is fleeting.

I’m trying to psych myself out of these ruts by establishing a daily practice, but it is sometimes easier said than done. But this past week, I had a wonderful opportunity to unite with other faculty in disciplines across campus for the St. Catherine University Scholar’s Retreat. The image I had in my mind was “writing bootcamp,” but the actual experience was quite different. It really made me think about the process of writing socially. The two facilitators of our group encouraged us to mix writing and work with periods of dedicated play. We were encouraged not to lock ourselves in a conference room with nothing but coffee, computers, and a laser-jet printer, although that was how I imagined our entire week at the Oakridge Conference Center in Chaska, MN. We had a schedule that stressed balance and we were expected to keep to it to avoid writing binges, structured around “Sacred Writing Time,” or periods of uninterrupted work. This writing time could occur in company (I liked to work in one of the larger rooms with about 6 others), or alone in your room, in nature, or in any other nook. A typical day looked like the following:

7-9am: Continental Breakfast
9-11am: Sacred Writing Time
11:15am-12pm: Small Group Meeting (progress check in and the setting of daily goals)
12-1pm: Lunch
1-2pm: Individual Meeting (if needed)
2-4pm: Sacred Writing Time
4-6pm: Play
6-7pm: Dinner
7:15-9pm: Large Group Meeting (which consisted mostly of public readings of works in progress)

The fact that I got more work done in these dedicated two hour chunks than one of my 8-hour coffee-shop binge sessions was enlightening. I kept thinking, “I can get more work done in two 2-hour chunks than a solid 8 hours of effort?! What magic is this?!” But I really think the process was effective because of breaks and the cultivation of a writer’s community–with people who faced the same struggles and neuroses as the rest of us. This week, I felt like my work was part of something larger. And through the process, an 8-page conference paper blossomed into a 25-page draft (complete with references). More work needs to be done, but I’m going to try my hand at allotting my own Sacred Writing Time during the week, and see how that goes. It begins today.

And as an added bonus of the process? Learning about the scholarly work and ambitions of my other colleagues in fields as diverse as English, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Biology, and Business. As I walk around campus this fall, I now have 13 newly familiar faces to greet me during Opening Workshops. I can even tell you what they are working on!

The more I reflect, the more I think that graduate programs should embrace similar retreats to teach their students and faculty how to establish a healthy writing practice. I try to think about when I learned all of the bad habits that I am trying desperately to unlearn. Was it when I was dissertating in coffee shops across the U.S. and Japan? How about cranking out seminar papers on the quarter system? Did it begin in my undergraduate education? Or in high school? I think that by the time we enter graduate school, everyone makes the assumption that not only can we write well, but that we can do so efficiently. But writing can be a struggle if it is not routine. And since there will never be enough time, we need to protect the time we allot in order to make writing a more mundane part of our schedule.

Because if I am telling the truth, my best work was never the result of divine inspiration. And I bet yours wasn’t either. It was the product of a daily toil and a special kind of perseverance to keep returning to that same draft no matter what frustrations I harbored. And the daily courage to sit down and double click on the document in order to begin.

Constructing a (Digital) Resource: Isabella Bird in Japan

The summer is off to a fantastic start! It has been hard to get my head into writing, so I’ve thrown my effort into developing a new online resource using ArcGIS and the StoryMap feature that they offer for free. It isn’t live yet, but I’m close…

I have some experience working with the basic functions of mapping in ArcGIS through the Traveling Hokkaido project. I’ve got a long way to go before that work is done, but I wanted to make a resource more squarely focused on the various dimensions of a single traveler. Since I’ve been working on an essay on the role of illustration and the depiction of the Ainu in Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880) (which will be moving to proofs soon, hopefully), I thought this might make a nice supplement.

My goal with this is to create something that is accessible for audiences of all ages. The points I plotted out for Traveling Hokkaido form the basis of the Hokkaido map above, but I’ve gone through Bird’s itinerary and began plotting out her travel in Honshu as well. Although her journey is in two volumes, I am breaking it up into four stages: Yokohama to Niigata, Niigata to Aomori, Hokkaido, and Kansai. Each point on the map to the right is an actual location Bird indicates either in text or in her itinerary. For each pin, I am going through the original 1880 text and isolating relevant quotes that pertain to place, geography, specific sites, or customs. I haven’t worked with her first volume extensively before this, and it has been enlightening to see seasonal changes and her subjective evaluations of place before and after her time in Hokkaido.

In addition to creating an overview of her entire Japan trip, I’m also trying to conxtualize the importance of her time in Hokkaido. I feel committed to doing this in terms of Japanese history while also recognizing the current state of the Ainu in the Saru River valley, where Bird spent her time. I’m highlighting the Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum, the Kayano Shigeru Ainu Museum, and the legal debate regarding the Nibutani Dam. Too many popular writers only see the Ainu in terms of their “pastness” and it would be irresponsible not to consider their present and their future.

As I put this together, I am also compiling ideas for an Educator’s Guide pitched towards high school and undergraduate students. I want to give educators ideas about how to use this series of maps in their classes. (After all, what good is a resource if you don’t know how to use it?) I think it could be extremely useful in Japanese history (of course), discussions of Victorian travel writing in literature, understanding the role of women in 19th century exploration, understanding the role of the Ainu in these narratives, and as a way to highlight the geographic context for understanding earlier practices of tourism that inform our own “beaten routes” today.

A work in progress! I anticipate releasing the project in two weeks or so. The Educator’s Guide might come a little bit later, but it will definitely be done before fall. For now, enjoys the screenshots!

Grades Are In! Finishing My First Year at St. Kate’s

Grades are in, the seniors have graduated, and campus is unusually quiet. Welcome to summer!

(Did anyone ever notice that Will Smith is wearing a Speed Racer t-shirt? I feel like my students in Global Japan would appreciate this!)
(Also — what a great video to use when talking about the role of the gaze.)

It has been an amazing year at St. Kate’s, and I continue to be grateful to have landed at an institution that has values so closely in line with my own, especially with regard to issues of social justice. After reflecting on my own experiences at co-educational institutions (K-12, undergraduate, graduate), I have constantly grappled with what it means to actually teach at a women’s university. As this year draws to a close, I feel like I am one step closer to understanding the importance of this commitment.

Like most of us in education, I look forward to the summer with relief and anticipation! I have a whole bucket list of things to accomplish over the next few months.

 

My (Ambitious) Goals for the Summer

  • Continue working on the Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection at St. Kate’s and flesh out my previous conference presentation into a full essay on chirimen-bon and US collecting practices. It will be good to get back into the archives without having to run to class!
  • Finish an essay about indigenous representation in gaming, based on conference presentations at Console-ing Passions, Mechademia, and the Popular Culture Association.
  • Begin inputting data I have collected for Traveling Hokkaido for Arnold Henry Savage Landor in ArcGIS. Because his travel was so extensive, this will be a lengthy undertaking… I also need to decide on future figures whose journeys I want to map and include in the project. My end goal is to have 6-8 journeys mapped with illustrations in order to be a useful, comparative, and open-source digital resource for scholarly work in Ainu Studies.
  • Finish a blog post for Art History Teaching Resources for the Fall on using Sutori to create interactive study guides for undergraduate students.
  • Research and pitch a 2000-word essay to First Person Scholar on gacha mechanics in Japanese and F2P gaming.
  • Work with Gabrielle Filip-Crawford in Psychology to develop our new collaborative course at St. Kate’s, All Art is Propaganda: Visual and Scientific Perspectives on Persuasion with our Academic Professional Development Committee Curriculum Development grant. (So excited for this!)
  • Redesign my approach to the Ways of Seeing course to include a significant community or service learning opportunity (#arthistoryengaged #arthistorythat)

 

 

Ainu and the Antique Store: Minnesota Edition

After 12 months of research in Hokkaido, I returned to California in 2014 to finish my dissertation. It was a large and intimidating project, and I worked off the stress by surfing antique shops throughout SoCal. All those years ago, I wrote a post about a pair of Ainu nipopo dolls that I stumbled across in an Orange antique shop. It reminded me of the travel economy and the emergence of these dolls as a staple of the tourist trade.

Old habits die hard. Not too long ago, I was doing some antique shopping in Hopkins, Minnesota. I came across some great Japanese stereoviews which I picked up, in addition to Meiji-era maps that were likely inserts in Western travelogues. But imagine my surprise when I spotted this woman out of the corner of my eye. She was standing on a shelf too high for me to reach. When we finally brought her down from her long-time resting place, her tag merely read “ethnic doll.” I decided that she would join her Orange County friends. When I brought her up to the register, the clerk examined her closely and explained to me how this was likely a wooden figure of Norwegian or Swedish origin, pointing out the details that led her to a conclusion: the rough hewn surface, the patterns in the clothing, and finally, the facial features. She looked at me with suspicion when I explained that it was a doll from Japan, from the indigenous people in the north called the Ainu. I can’t say I blame her skepticism… What would an Ainu nipopo be doing in a Minnesota antique shop, anyway? Considering the Scandavian roots of those that settled this region, a Swedish or Norwegian doll would be much easier to accept. But in some ways, she may not have been too far off the mark. The Ainu did not begin carving bears or nipopo dolls for tourist consumption until they fell into hard economic times in the 1920s. The practice may have been inspired by the works being created in Scandanavia. It is an interesting linked history.

She lives in my office now and gives me cause to talk about my work with students. It never ceases to amaze me how a small doll can tell so much about this history.

Women’s March MN

Women's March 4Like millions of like-minded individuals across the United States and the world, I participated in a women’s march this past Saturday. It was such a sight to see 100,000 people descend upon Minnesota’s capital in St. Paul. Every where I looked, I saw people of all cultural backgrounds, people of all ages, people of all religions and no religion, people of all orientations, and people of all degrees of disability (many of whom participated virtually). And together, we fought for the right to economic opportunity, the right to healthcare, the right to human dignity and personal safety, the right to just immigration policies, the right to representation, and the right to reproductive freedom and care. We heard from our Senators and Representatives, including Illhan Omar, the first Somali American legislator in the United States, and important figures in our local community, such as Sandra Day from the Indigenous People’s Task Force, Raeisha Williams from the NAACP, and Lucila Dominguez from the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha. I was also happy to see ASL interpreting throughout, something that I have become increasingly aware of with regard to my own privilege since arriving here at St. Kate’s. And importantly, we stood in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Feminism needs to be intersectional in order to practice the kind of equality that it preaches. I am of firm mind that we still have much room to grow in this regard, but I thought this was a great first step for many people in the state and the country. The best of worst times. I was proud to stand with a group of Katies on Saturday, hand in hand with our students abroad marching in Paris and beyond.

So let’s continue to think about the reasons why we march. And continue to protect our first amendment right to do so. It will be a marathon, not a sprint. But I march to protect the ones I love, my students, and those who are most vulnerable among us.

After all, as I saw on sign after sign at the march, a woman’s place is in the resistance. I can’t help but feel that it would have brought a smile to Carrie Fisher’s face.

I find protest photography fascinating, and I’ve long been looking at images from the ANPO protests in Japan in the 1960s. (If you want to see/read more about these images, I highly recommend UCLA Professor William Marotti’s Money, Trains and Guillotines: Art and Revolution in 1960s Japan [Duke University Press, 2013]). Like many forms of social activism, protests are most effective when they are visually documented. I wonder what historians will say about photographs of the Women’s March years from now…

Crisis Logic & the Reader: Election Reflection

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The past two weeks have been a challenge as a professor, as a mentor, as a sister, and as a friend. Although I speak from my own personal experience, I know that the election has stirred up a range of emotions in our community–from hope to fear to anger to anxiety. I am listening to my students, I am talking to faculty and staff, and just yesterday, I participated in a community forum titled “The Election, Moving Forward, & Staying Safe” in an effort to understand and hear perspectives that I might not have been exposed to otherwise. At times, I have been loud. At other moments, I have stayed silent. And as this week draws to a close, I’m left with questions, more than anything. In the spirit of asking questions, it was a treat (and somewhat cathartic) to have visiting social practice artist Sam Gould with us at St. Kate’s for the week for an experimental symposium, Crisis Logic & the Reader. He describes the project in the following terms:

Crisis manifests relationships and modes of action uncommon outside of other states of disruption. As a positive experience, crisis can highlight utopic possibilities such as egalitarianism, collaboration and cooperation, int he midst of the destruction of the day-to-day.

But along with crisis comes anxiety. The repeated boosts of adrenaline, while beneficial in small immediate doses, fractures our clarity and composure over time, contributing to the breakage of self.

Crisis Logic & the Reader, an area of inquiry to be centered around crowd-sourced questions and facilitated by artist Sam Gould, will manifest as an experimental symposium at St. Catherine University in November 2016, the week following the US presidential election. Although the project is not explicitly about the election, it aims to engage in meaningful ways with civic and civil discourse through symposia discussions, poster making, a durational listening session, and a musical concert.

Promoting the idea of the “culture of reading” as a long-term, daily alternative to the logic which arises out of singular moments of crisis, Crisis Logic & the Reader will convene students and the public as a means towards unpacking the possibilities and complications of reading culture serving as a vehicle for socio-political engagement.

 

I was intrigued by the idea of crisis as something that not only brings great anxiety, but actually forces us to pause mundane routines in order to seek actions and answers. Sam questioned us — can this potential be harnessed? Would it be dangerous to do so? How can the act of social reading serve as an antidote to the anxiety of crisis? I listened in on the symposia discussions, and my students and I made posters with our “questions” in the wake of the election. I had some of the same questions as my students. Some of their questions surprised me. But all of them came from a shared sense of living in a crisis moment. The questions were read without attribution into a P.A. system set up in the entry to the Visual Arts Building. Some students whispered their questions. Others yelled them into the void. But read together, you could feel the range of emotion and concern from both sides of the political aisle.

Sam spoke about the value of asking questions not to get answers… but to ask better questions. So in that spirit, let’s keep asking.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Autumn, Art, and Archives at St. Kate’s

It is hard to believe how quickly autumn as come — it feels like  yesterday that I was just getting settled into this office. Our campus is positively gorgeous at this time of year, and I take every opportunity that I can to set foot outside of the brutalist concrete of the Visual Arts Building to soak in the color of the changing leaves. People love this season here in Minnesota, but part of me does miss the seasonal tourism of Japan where whole streets would occasionally be closed to traffic for pedestrians to admire and take photos of the 紅葉 (momiji, maple) and 銀杏 (ichō, ginkgo). When I was at Hokkaido University, they would not only close ichō dōri (ginkgo street) for a couple of days, but they would also illuminate them with floodlights at night. It made the street look otherworldly; a dark sky punctuated by pale yellows and greens. We have some gorgeous side streets in St. Paul lined in vibrant shades of orange and yellow, and I so desperately want to rid them of cars.

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Looking across the lawn at St. Kate’s towards the Visual Arts Building and Mendel Hall

In addition to teaching art history and visual culture, things are finally coming together on a variety of fronts. I’m editing my chapter on artist Kondō Kōichiro to submit for peer review (a long time coming!), I will be guest blogging at the Art History Teaching Resources this spring on digital cartography in the classroom, and I will be presenting the third, and possibly last, iteration of my arcade fighting games and gender project at the Popular Culture Association conference (this time strictly focused on Street Fighter II, Chun-Li, and fashion) before drafting it into an essay. Classes are also now set for Spring 2017. I will be teaching Art History: Ancient through Medieval and Global Japan: Art, Anime, and Visual Culture. It will be such a treat to teach Japanese visual culture again, and based on feedback I received at St. Olaf College, I’m looking forward to reinventing part of my approach to teaching it. All good things.

Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, 1897-1898. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

I also had the chance to visit the Special Collections here at St. Kate’s and take a look at some of the material hiding in the Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection. Imagine my surprise to find a Meiji-era copy of Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, edited by Captain Francis Brinkley and published by J. B. Millet circa 1897-1898. There are 10 volumes here at St. Kate’s. They contain original hand-colored photographs by Tamamura Kozaburo and a few flower colotypes by Ogawa Kazumasa. When Denise Bethel was describing this work, she said, “[It] may be the last great book to be illustrated with original photographs” (1991). Harvard has a brief write-up of their fine art edition of the work that is worth checking out if you are curious.

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The Smiling Book, 1896. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

In addition to this great find, we also have a copy of a crepe-paper book called The Smiling Book by Hasegawa Takejiro published in 1896. I’m fascinated by this work, and I think it would be fun to work more closely with it in the future. Otsuka Nanae has written a few articles on this work and other period publications which use the same images at the National Diet Library: here and here. I can’t help but think that this small crepe paper book is in conversation with research that I’ve done regarding late 19th and early 20th century practices of borrowing and re-appropriating images in Japan. The second page of the work mentions American author Lu Wheat, and I’m curious about the relationship between this female writer (who published The Third Daughter: A Story of Chinese Home Life in 1906 and Ah Moy: The Story of a Chinese Daughter in 1908), the female collector Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch, and the content/imagery of The Smiling Book. I hope I can get back soon!

I have also been to a wide range of exhibitions as of late. All I can say is that I’m continually impressed with the work being done here in the Twin Cities. Exhibitions alone warrant their own post, so I’ll leave you all with this page from The Smiling Book

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The Smiling Book, 1896. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

 

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