Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

College Art Association 2019

Well, another large national conference has come to a close. I’m amazed at how after only a few days of attendance, you begin to feel like you live at the conference… This year, the College Art Association Conference was in New York, and while exhilarating, it always leaves me a bit tired. It makes me feel my age in comparison to being young and living in Tokyo! (And New York, why do you have to be so expensive?!)

All of us waiting for the panel to begin!

I presented a paper this year on a panel titled Coloring Print: Reproducing Race through Material, Process, and Language sponsored by the Association of Print Scholars. Our panel was chaired by Christina Michelon, who did an amazing job. The panel featured papers by Annika Johnson, Melanee Howard, Holly Shaffer, and myself. Some of the themes that stood out to me across the whole panel were: preservation/salvage, fragmentation, print circulation’s role in shaping memory (during life and after death), repetition in reproduction, romantic ideals, systems of print and circulation, genealogies of images, the construction of story/myth, and the role of imagination. In addition, I can’t help but smile inside at this photograph of us all —5 female scholars—getting ready to talk about topics crucial to our research. I find it fairly rare in my sub field (usually, my co-presenters are male), so I couldn’t help but take notice of the image.

It is REALLY hard to look good in a photograph taken mid-presentation! But thank you to Steve Burges for taking this one 😉

I also attended some really great Japan-related panels during the conference including Race and Modern and Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture (sponsored by JAHF with presentations by Sabine Fruhstuck, Chinghsin Wu, Ayelet Zohar, and Jennifer Robertson); Dirt, Mud, Sand, Sludge (that had a presentation by my dissertation advisor, Bert Winther-Tamaki), and Asian Diasporic Art and the Narrative of Modernism (sponsored by Diasporic Asian Art Network with papers by Tom Wolf, Margo L. Machida, and SooJin Lee). I also got a chance to attend some panels related to #digitalhumanities and #digitalarthistory. Attending conferences is a humbling reminder of how much I have yet to learn. But it was great to see old friends and connect with new ones!

Now that CAA 2019 is over, I need to turn my full energy towards this exhibition that I am curating set to open on April 13th. I’m not sure how I will do what needs to be done between now and then, but I’m excited to see the whole project come together.

Exploring Chirimen-bon in Yokohama

I am incredibly thankful for having been invited to give a paper by Mayako Murai at Kanagawa University’s symposium “ちりめん本と女性の文化” (Chirimen-bon and Girl’s Culture), which celebrated the opening of an exhibition of Japanese crepe-paper books in their library. The trip was a whirlwind (I stayed for 5 nights in Yokohama because of my teaching duties here), but I’m grateful for the chance to travel and meet new colleagues who are interested in these quaint, but fascinating works of material culture. I was also introduced to Nanae Otsuka, a librarian who is retired from the National Diet Library, who was an amazing guide and a fast friend.

Me and Otsuka-san at the National Children’s Library in Ueno.

On my first full day in Yokohama, I took the train into Tokyo to meet up with Murai and Otsuka. Together we explored the National Diet Library on a tour with Librarian Yokota Shihoko, who was truly knowledgable about the resources and the space. It was fortuitous timing, because the library was hosting a memorial exhibition featuring some of their rare printed works! I was shocked at the architecture of the building, which was a particular issue during the 2011 earthquake. When we entered the space, we all wore “booties” on our feet to protect the surfaces. It was great to see how their institution processed material, and I was even shocked to learn about the amount of manga they had on their shelves — a true resource for any scholar of popular culture! When Murai left, Otsuka and I ate some delicious eel before making our way to the National Children’s Library in Ueno. It was my first time there, and the building was fascinating. In a nutshell, it was constructed in two halves and you could see the Meiji architecture coexisting with later Showa and Heisei additions. Later, we wandered the streets to find a paper shop that created their own chirimen (crepe paper) and to a historic tofu restaurant that I will not soon forget. I owe Otsuka many thanks. Wandering around with her was a great way to orient myself back in Tokyo — it has been some time, since I avoided it on my last venture to Japan.

On the day of the exhibition, I met up with Otsuka and we made our way over to Kanagawa University. She gave attendees a personalized tour of the space. Not only was I able to see various examples of chirimen-bon in person, but I was also able to learn more about the process and meet others interested in the books, from scholars to collectors. My own presentation dealt with the connoisseurship of these books by Western women who were friends with publisher Hasegawa Takejiro. I also discussed Minnesota artist, Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch, whose family donated her copy of The Smiling Book to St. Catherine University. It was a rare chance for me to see our book in conversation with works existing in Japan, and listening to Otsuka’s paper made me realize that there are new avenues that I need to pursue as I continue this work.

I had very little downtime during the trip, but I did find a day to visit the garden at Sankeien. The site is interesting because many historical buildings from other places have been relocated here. But it was peaceful to walk around on a beautiful autumn day. It was amazing to me that the leaves had not yet changed in November. They happened to be having a flower show on the day I was there. I also explored Yokohama’s Chinatown with Otsuka and even went on a ferry ride with her around Yokohama Bay.

The trip was quick, but certainly memorable. I am excited and even more energized to keep moving along this path. Many thanks to all of the amazing people I met on my trip (especially Murai, Otsuka, and Yokota).

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