Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Presentation at Global Digital Humanities Symposium

Time flies not when you are having fun, but when midterm season is approaching! In light of exam craziness, I’m quite excited to be giving a lightning paper next week at the Global Digital Humanities Symposium at Michigan State University. While I have been pretty involved in digital humanities since I was a graduate student, I don’t often get a chance to come together with people across disciplines who incorporate these kinds of methodologies into their research and pedagogy. The techie in me is jazzed to learning about new tools or new applications of tools that I already use.

The paper is titled “Mapping the Northern Frontier: Geo-Spatial Visualization and the Exploration of Indigenous Culture in Japan.” In a nutshell, I will be talking about how the mapping tool ArcGIS can be used to compare the routes taken by travelers in Hokkaido during the Meiji period (1868-1912) to learn new information about the Ainu villages that became tourist staples later in Hokkaido’s history. However, I think this approach has vast implications for art history. Ainu visual artifacts are scattered across US, European, and Japanese museums. In the future, I would like to layer the routes of prominent travelers/collectors/anthropologists with metadata about these visual objects and where they were found. From the experimenting that I’ve been doing, I think it can paint a rich picture about how visual culture moves through geographic space and give valuable data about which Ainu villages and regions are over-represented in the history in a way that gets beyond mere anecdotal evidence. I am hopeful that such a tool will permit us to compare the narratives of travelers (some of whom highly exaggerated the uniqueness of their itineraries), and that it will give us a chance to compare regional styles and go beyond a “monolithic” understanding of Ainu culture during that time. In sum, it paints a more dynamic picture of the visual cultural landscape.

If you are in Michigan and interested, the two-day symposium begins on March 16th at 11:30pm. My panel on mapping begins at 2:05pm.

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.

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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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

Sustainability Weeks?

sw06_1Hokkaido University is just wrapping up Sustainability Weeks (サステナビリティ・ウィーク), which sponsors events and lectures over the course of several months dedicated to the theme of “sustainability” in society and in the academy. The official description from the website reads:

Sustainability Weeks (SW) is a campaign hosted by Hokkaido University with the aim of promoting research and education to help create a sustainable society. The assembly of more than 6,000 researchers, educators, students, and citizens from home and abroad during the two weeks of SW to share and discuss the latest scientific knowledge in the form of symposium, workshop and various exhibitions will enable us to identify the next steps toward a better future.

Even though the term is most often heard in environmental or economic discourse, the events during Sustainability Week are separated (and cross-listed) between four categories: Learning for the Future, Quality of Life, Harmony with Nature, and then a yearly theme (this year’s theme is “Education for Sustainable Development”). These headings seem to invite a kind of feel-good gathering around the campfire, but I actually think that there is something really important to discussing sustainability within the University and Humanities, especially in light of practices that cannot keep pace with changes in the nature of the university and academic publishing

Sustainability Week 2013But the quest for a sustainability is also of concern to indigenous communities across the globe. Last year, I attended Hokkaido University’s Sustainability Week symposium titled “Indigenous Heritage and Tourism: Succession and Creation of Living Heritage” (先住民文化遺産とツーリズム: 生きている遺産の継承と創造). Across three days at Hokkaido University and The Historical Museum of the Saru River in the town of Biratori, scholars, artists, and activists from Hokkaido and abroad dialogued about how to preserve indigenous heritage, and the the transference of knowledge about Ainu language and art to a younger generation moving into the future.

This year’s theme, “Indigenous Heritage and Tourism: Constructing Cultural Landscape and Indigenous Heritage Issues” (先住民文化遺産とツーリズム ―文化的景観と先住民遺産をめぐる諸問題―), continues this conversation by examining the various uses of landscape in indigenous communities as both managed resource and cultural inheritance. The activities on December 20th center around the theme of “Cultural Landscapes Created by Rock & Water”, while December 21st is dedicated to “Cultural Landscapes Created by Sea and Lake.” If last year’s event was any indication, this year will a vibrant dialogue, so check it out if you are in the Sapporo area.

Date/Time
December 20, 2014, 1 – 3pm (doors open at 12:30pm)
December 21, 2014, 10am – 4pm (doors open at 9:30am)

Location:
Hokkaido University Conference Hall [学術交流会館 小講堂] (Open to General Public)

Language:
Japanese/English (consecutive interpretation)

Sponsored By:
Hokkaido University Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies
Center for Advanced Tourism Studies, Hokkaido University
WAC-Japan (Bid Committee for 8th World Archaeological Congress in Kyoto)

Ainu and the Antique Store

photo 6_editedMy childhood in Pennsylvania was filled of memories of antique shops, flea markets, auctions, and estate sales. I think it was somewhere between the rows of old objects that I discovered a love of history and a passion for the hunt. I vividly remember summer Saturdays, watching the world fly by from the passenger seat of my mother’s car. It lacked air conditioning and my legs used to stick to the seat every time we stopped to check out a new garage sale. When our search was over, we would giddily talk about our “finds” on the drive home, and remember the new neighborhoods through which we traveled, guided only by little neon-colored signs with a poor sense of direction.

This past weekend, J and I were rooting through old antique shops in Old Towne Orange, CA. Often called the “Antique Capital of Southern California,” small shops and specialty cafes decorate a one-mile stretch around the historic Orange Plaza. Proceeding from shop to shop, I relived the days of my youth feeling my way around the unique and rusted.

Old souvenir objects from Japan and China seem to be a staple of the antique market, and there is no shortage of blue-and-white porcelain, geisha dolls, and Chinoiserie. But you can imagine my surprise when stumbling upon two modest wood-carved figures of an Ainu man and woman. As if experiencing a bend in time, my childhood activities seemed to link directly to my current research.

The two figures were each strangled by a snap lock pin security loop from which a price tag dangled: “Carved Wood Figure, $4.00 each.” They were sandwiched between a vintage straw hot pad that my grandmother might have used and a porcelain vase with a faux wood finish, decorated with a butterfly and the words “Maui.” In front of the figures were ashtrays of various designs, materials, and patterns. A large Native American figure loomed on the shelf above them along with brass and crystal candlesticks and an over-sized plastic M&M figurine. Kitsch at its best.

The pair was probably produced in Hokkaido as a tourist souvenir. Beginning in the late Taisho era (ca. 1924), dolls like these were produced by the Ainu specifically for a tourist market. The figures have roots the Ainu nipopo doll, which was carved and utilized by shamans as protective amulets. Although it was against Ainu beliefs to depict the human form in a non-religious context, the tourist trade was an important source of income for a vulnerable group of people dependent on the government (Dubreul 1999). Ainu dolls like these are often compared to the Japanese kokeshi, since some souvenir versions are more rounded in shape. But while kokeshi are lathe-turned,  Ainu dolls are carved (McDowell 2011).

For me, this pair of dolls amongst the random items on an American antique store shelf is a testament to the American interest in the Ainu and Hokkaido; an interest that feels almost alien to us today. But even now, any traveler can buy similar wooden Ainu dolls at almost every major tourist spot on the island. I can only guess how this couple landed in an antique store in Orange, CA, but their mere presence speaks to these larger networks of circulation and exchange.

I opened my wallet and laid the $8 on the counter.

19th Century Workshop: Circulation

California has cooled down a bit, but I would be lying if i said that I didn’t miss Sapporo right now. Every time I sit down to work on my dissertation, I find myself quietly reminiscing about the sweet (and spicy) smell of soup curry, a famous Sapporo dish. I’ve been back in the States for ten days now and I’m already getting ready for my next flight to Rutgers University for the Nineteenth Century Workshop. Excited about the workshop, but not so excited to be back in an airport so soon…

The workshop’s theme is “Circulation” and here are some themes and questions the conference poses:

The nineteenth century was an age of mass circulation of newspapers and magazines; of forced migration and exodus; of developing expertise in networks of trade and colonial exploitation; of the emergence of standardized time for travel by steamship and by rail; of the transnational circulation of theatrical performances, medicine shows, and fraudulent currency; and of new understandings of the movement of languages, species, and cultures. The end of the slave trade and the abolition of slavery in many empires and nations, new forms of colonialism (of both the extractive and settler varieties) as well as massive labor migrations, all radically altered individuals’ sense of place and belonging, and what constituted the local and the global.

How was the movement of commodities, capital, and human bodies governed, promoted, and understood by different groups and organizations?  How did nineteenth-century cultural works orient themselves to new conditions of circulation?  In an age of increasingly coordinated circulation, where were the blockages? What stayed still?

We’ll be discussing actual written pieces provided by each presenter. Although I think there is much to be learned by presenting papers at conferences, I feel like workshops of this variety are a rare opportunity to get feedback on actual written work, and a chance to write something longer than the brief snapshot a conference allows. The workshop brings together people from a variety of different areas and fields, and will surely be an interdisciplinary dialogue! If you have an interest in the nineteenth century, the complete schedule has been posted here.

Bear-Worhisppers of YezoI am presenting on a panel with Edyta Bojanowska and Carla Yanni on October 3rd from 2:00-3:30 p.m. Both of our papers deal with travelogues in different regions of the world, and I’m looking forward to comparing approaches to this kind of material. My essay is about the gradual solidification of the Ainu visual stereotype through image circulation in the nineteenth century through travel works like Philipp Franz von Siebold’s Nippon (1852), Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), and Edward Greey’s The Bear Worshippers of Yezo (1884). I’m looking at how these travelers cite (and occasionally copy) earlier Ainu-e (images of the Ainu painted by Japanese visitors to Hokkaido). This essay is based on research recently completed in Hokkaido, so I’m thrilled to be getting some feedback. Here is our panel information:

October 3rd, 2:00-3:30pm, Murray Hall 302

Edyta Bojanowska, German, Russian, and Eastern European Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature, Rutgers
“Pineapples in Petersburg, Cabbage Soup on the Equator: Circuits of Global Trade in a Mid-Nineteenth Century Russian Travelogue”

Christina Spiker, Visual Studies, UC Irvine
“Constructing the Indigenous: Nineteenth-Century Circulation and Transformation of the Ainu Image in British and American Print Culture”

Moderated by Carla Yanni, Art History, Rutgers

Lecture on Edo-period manuscript, Ezo seikei zusetsu

Per usual, it seems like every talk and presentation is happening on the same weekend! Because of the upcoming trip to Tokyo for ASCJ, I will have to miss this presentation by a brilliant visiting researcher here at Hokkaido University, Vasily Shchepkin [ワシーリー・シェプキン] (St. Petersburg Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, Russian Academy of Sciences). If you have an interest in Ainu-e and happen to be in the area, I think this will be an interesting talk. I’m sad to have to miss it, especially as I have been looking at the work Ezo seikei zusetsu lately, in an entirely different context.  The talk will be in Japanese, but here are some of the details for those interested. Admission is free and no reservation is required to attend.

2014年度6月講演会ポスターLecturer:
Vasily Shchepkin
(Saint Petersburg Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, Russian Academy of Sciences)

Date/Time
June 20th, 2014 (Friday), 6:30-8:00pm (doors open at 6:00pm)

Location:
Humanities and Social Sciences Classroom Building [北海道大学人文・社会科学総合教育研究棟] (W Bldg), 2nd Floor, Room 202
Address: Sapporo-shi, Kita-ku, Kita 10, Nishi 7 chome, on the grounds of Hokkaido University

Sponsored By:
Hokkaido University Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies

Content: When looking beyond the content of old manuscripts, the ownership mark [蔵書印], label [付箋], and calligraphic style [書体] tell us an additional story. There are two Japanese volumes titled Higashi ezochi ikou [東蝦夷彙考] at the Saint Petersburg Institute of Oriental Manuscripts. The contents of these works are filled with an abundance of Ainu-e similar to that of Ezochi seikei zusetsu [蝦夷生計図説] (1823). When comparing this Higashi ezochi ikou with other manuscripts of Ezochi seikei zusetsu, what can be learned from the analysis of the ownership mark and label?

Japanese announcement: click here

Lessons from the Native American Art Show

アイヌ・アートが担う新たな役割―米国先住民アートショーに学ぶIt is really fascinating to learn about one’s own country in a foreign country… Or at least that was my experience at yesterday’s アイヌ・アートが担う新たな役割―米国先住民アートショーに学ぶ Symposium (“Promotion and Communication of Ainu Arts and Culture: Learning from the Native American Art Shows in the U.S. Southwest”). In the true spirit of multicultural collaboration, the goal was to examine the role of the “art show” for the Zuni tribe (Pueblo Native Americans located around the four corners region of the United States), and consider how Ainu art and craft production could fit within such a framework.

There were three presentations (Robert Breunig, Jim Enote, and Kaizawa Kazuaki), a dialogue with a Zuni artist (Octavius Seowtewa and Jim Enote), and a discussion panel (previous 4 speakers, Yamasaki Koji, and Ito Atsunori). The following are some issues/moments that stood out to me.

  • What is an “art show“? Throughout the various presentations, the art show was described as having two primary motives. The first being the creation of a market for indigenous art production and the second being a way of communicating indigenous culture (and current conditions) to both the source community in addition to an outside market. Jim Enote described both the art show and the museum space as an ideal “contact zone” of cultures (a word that is also arising often in my own research). Issues concerning audience arose several times over the course of the afternoon, and many of the scholars questioned who an art show (or a museum) actually serves. However, it was mutually acknowledged with regard to the Zuni and the Ainu that both cultures had a long history of art exhibition (and production) that remained in need of attention.
  • There was much discussion about the role and definition of the “traditional” and the “authentic” with regards to the artistic practice of indigenous peoples, and this was discussed in terms of form, material, and the problems associated with fervent copying of indigenous objects (both within one’s own country and internationally). A comment that was raised by Breunig and Enote was that the authenticity of materials (such as certain woods or stones) carries limited meaning if a context for the buying and selling of that art is absent. As such, Kaizawa and Enote both discussed the importance of an “Ainu brand” or a “Zuni brand” that facilitated educated buying of indigenous goods. In a memorable analogy, Enote compared buying indigenous art to buying wine. Wine-tasting seminars (and, conversely, the museum) help people to understand what they are buying by teaching them to discriminate between objects. If people learn to appreciate authenticity, then they will seek it out. Again, relating back to audience, the “they” here refers to the art connoisseur — what role do these objects play in the source community?  How can a younger  generation learn and innovate on the diverse artistic traditions?
  • A member of the audience asked a tough question of the two Zuni members regarding the issue of a “national apology” for Japanese actions during the Meiji period in light of the new (national) Ainu museum scheduled to be built in Shiraoi by the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Reflecting on the Zuni’s relationship with the United States government, Enote responded, “We don’t want an apology, we want a thank you.” Rather than apologizing for actions in the past that cannot be undone, a “thank you” involves a much more active acknowledgment of Zuni/Native American contribution to the history of the United States. There was an audible reaction from the audience on this one.

20140126-5The symposium’s spirit of collaboration was great, and there were many lessons to be learned on both sides. At the same time, such a format also makes apparent many unique issues for each group that do not have a strong parallels. For example, in the case of the Zuni, there is a real problem of other tribes copying Zuni goods for the market, thus undermining a “Zuni style” and devaluing Zuni labor.

It seems like many of the same speakers will continue the discussion along different lines at the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka starting tomorrow (1/28) in an international workshop entitled, “Re-Collection and Sharing Traditional Knowledge, Memories, Information, and Images: Problem and the Prospects on Creating Collaborative Catalog.”

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