Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

2016 Senior Studio Art Show @ St. Olaf

Hard to believe that the school year is coming to a close. For those of you in the area, there are two exciting culminating exhibitions at St. Olaf College: the Senior Studio Art Show and Between You and Me: Portraits from Flaten Art Museum’s Collection.

I have nine current and former students exhibiting in the Senior Studio Art Show — hard to believe! It will be exciting to see the product of their time here at St. Olaf. I’ve been watching the students install the exhibition in the Flaten Art Museum and the Groot Gallery this past week, and the show looks to be a good one! There are a total of 38 students showing. It will be on view from May 8th to the 29th, with an opening reception from 12pm-3pm on Sunday May 8th and a commencement reception from 10:30am – 12:30pm on May 29th.


Between You and Me: Portraits from Flaten Art Museum’s Collection is an exhibition put together by St. Olaf art history majors as part of the annual series, Lasting Legacy. Students each select and interpret a work of art, and offer their own take on a variety of cultures, time periods, and media. This time around, the students are exploring the role of portraiture in the construction of identity. It features work from artists such as Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The show will be on view in St. Olaf’s Print Study Room from May 8th – 29th, and there will be an opening and commencement reception to coincide with the Senior Show.

A Response to Marcus Young

A clay bowl in your hands.

Touch the earth as you take your food.

Eat with friends, sensing the horizon.

Today, I walked to campus under the shade of burning red maples, and entered a bustling cafeteria sheltering a clay bowl. It made my hands look incredibly small. I circled from station to station choosing only food that would give me pleasure. Some honeydew and cantaloupe; scrambled eggs and black beans. A little sriracha for good measure.  I held the earth in one hand, while delicately arranging my selections. I did not want overlap; I wanted to enjoy each flavor. I wandered in to the seating area, where small blue place-mats were arranged across two tables, and I took my seat at a sunny corner. With the ring of a bell, we began eating in silence among friends. The conversations of the room flowed around us in one mass, and we were invited to think of the horizon and our ancestors; to make eating an artful and aesthetic experience. The sunlight played with my food, highlighting hidden textures and caverns in my eggs and making my fruit glow in luminescent green and orange. I thought about the way that my mother used to make breakfast for me on weekend mornings, and how her mother probably made breakfast for her. I wish I had slowed down to enjoy them at the time now that I am far away. I thought about the sweetness of cantaloupe and honeydew, thanking each soft piece while apologizing to those that were still hard and unripe. Taken too soon. With another subtle ring of the bell, conversation flowed and we compared thoughts and stories. We took three deep breaths, and started the day.



I wrote the above anecdote shortly after eating mindfully with behavioral artist Marcus Young, who has been in residence this week living in the Groot Gallery as part of the St. Olaf Artist Series. His work, Life All Along: Instructions for Living at a Small Liberal Arts College or Someplace Similarly Wonderful, encourages participation in the activities that make up our daily life. During a community time discussion, he explained, “We are all artists creating this masterpiece called our life.” He asked if we ever really wondered if this is all that life is; if all the daily practices add up to what we think life should be. Marcus encourages spontaneity. Students have not only been “eating mindfully” in the cafeteria, but they have been dancing to their own rhythm in the quad, noticing the ringing of the bells and the dancing of pale blue fabric between the autumn leaves. They have also meditated in the gallery and performed Yoko Ono’s cut piece once a day in various locations. In various ways they have followed the instructions of Life All Along to dance foolishly, to eat mindfully, to cut revealingly, to ring regularly, to live artfully, to be quietly, and to live plainly. Small, subtle disruptions in campus routines.

Life All AlongIt has been refreshing. The conversations that have followed have been reflective and insightful: students spoke with me about the inability to slow down in our lives and about our tendency to fill every silence and every gap with a new activity or responsibility. There seemed to be a real desire to press the pause button on routine to enjoy food or company or dance or music. A will to collaborate. A wish to live authentically.

And speaking of spontaneity… Just as I was writing this post music professor Therees Hibbard and her talented students decided to conduct class in the Groot Gallery, where Marcus has been living, and their sounds just came alive throughout our entire building. A happening of sorts, and a change from the routine, but it truly warms the soul. Students stopped in their tracks to listen and faculty emerged from their offices, and it was a real treat to see Therees in her element surrounded by her students. A really beautiful day at St. Olaf.

Pace Prints: A Master Printer’s Perspective

Pace Prints: A Master Printer’s Perspective is currently on display at St. Olaf College’s Flaten Art Museum! The show opened on September 10th (so I am a bit late with the update), but it is open until November 8th. Still plenty of time to check out these amazing prints. Here is the official blurb:


Fine art publisher Pace Prints issues work by some of the world’s most celebrated contemporary artists. Lesser-known are the master printers, whose technical expertise allows these artists to achieve the precise effects desired in their prints and whose innovations push the boundaries of the medium. This exhibition explores the intertwined relationship between artist and master printer through a collection of more than 20 prints including etchings, lithographs, monoprints, silk screens, woodcuts, and new technologies that synthesize digital tools and traditional approaches. Contemporary artists such as Ghada Amer and Reza Farkondeh, Chuck Close, Tara Donovan, Sol Lewitt, Claes Oldenberg, Kiki Smith, and James Turrell have partnered with Pace, collaborating with master printers to solve thrilling technical puzzles and challenge the boundaries of contemporary printmaking. Curated by Bill Hall, Master Printer, Pace Prints; Justin Israels, Master Printer, Pace Prints; John Saurer, Associate Professor of Art, St. Olaf; Jane Becker Nelson, Director, Flaten Art Museum.


It was great to Rhexia, Paul Morrison (2011)be in the audience for the gallery talk by Justin Israels (Master Printer of Pace Prints) on September 25th, who spoke about the many works on display as “old friends.” Printmaking is collaborative by its very nature, and it was a refreshing perspective on works that sometimes never escape the aura, personality, or dominant narrative of the artist. It was fascinating hear about the challenges involved with finding the right sized pin to create Tara Donovan’s pin matrix relief prints or learning about the process needed to make Corban Walker’s hardground etchings. In all cases, these works would have never been possible without the synergy of the artist’s vision and the technical skill of the printer, whose identity often remains hidden from view.IMG_7215

There are a wide range of prints on display to showcase a variety of processes, but my two favorites were Rhexia by Paul Morrison (2011, linocut, printed by Justin Israels, Kathy Kuehn Bill Hall, Ann Aspinwall & Kyle Simon) and Faith by Jane Hammond (2001, iris print with relief, collage, wood veneer, silver foil, and hand-coloring printed by Ruth Lingen, Kathy Kuehn, Mae Shore, and Andre Ribuoli). The former because it toyed with the visual codes of older landscape prints writ large, playing with scale and style in one gigantic linocut. The latter because who cannot forget the image of a sinking Kamakura daibutsu, candles, and a ballerina on a retro television set. It reminded me of the strange imagery of a tourist poster with the pastel background punctuated by bold forms. Although none were featured at the Flaten Art Museum, Pace Prints has also worked with Japanese artists such as Okada Kenzo, Shibata Yasu, and Nara Yoshitomo.

The secret labor of the printer is nothing new, however! I have been working with nineteenth-century woodblock printed engravings, and I also find that the identity of the printer or engraver, if known, is always overshadowed by the author of the text. Even when the images found in these works become iconic, they are exclusively associated with the writer.

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?