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.

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.

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…

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.



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!

18th Annual ASCJ Conference

The schedule has been announced, my flight is booked, and my lodging decided!  My preparations for the 18th Annual Asian Studies Conference Japan at Sophia University in Tokyo is (more or less) complete!

The panel is called “Landscape as Object and Frame in Japanese Literary and Visual Culture” (Sunday, 6/22, 10:00am, Room 209). The contrast between the papers should make for a good discussion, and the themes will allow us travel to a variety of locales over the course of the panel. Daniel C. O’Neill of UC Berkeley will be our discussant.

1. Molly Vallor, Kobe University: Zen Dialogues in the Pure Land: Landscaping the Line of Musō Soseki at Saihōji

2. David Gundry, University of California at Davis: Lake Biwa as a Site of Transformation in the Fiction of Ihara Saikaku

3. Christina Spiker, University of California at Irvine: An Itinerary of Hokkaido: Photo Postcards, Tourism, and Erasing the Indigenous Body

4. Thomas O’Leary, Saddleback College (panel organizer): Reclaiming the Post-War Landscape in Japan: Tradition, Memory, and Nostalgia

If you are interested in early registration for the conference, I believe the online deadline is June 10th. It will be great to get back to Tokyo if even for the weekend!

(Un)Making the Visual Subject

(Un)Making the Visual SubjectAlthough I am not in California at the moment, I wanted to pass around the 2014 Visual Studies Graduate Conference announcement. The conference, titled “(Un)Making the Visual Subject,” is being held on April 4th, 2014 at UC Irvine. It features talks from Bert Winther-Tamaki, Eyal Amiran, and Zeinabu Irene Davis, followed by a screening of Mississippi Damned (dir. Tina Mabry, 2009) with remarks by the director and a Q&A moderated by Jared Sexton.  For the official schedule and other details, please visit this website.

Aesthetics of Austerity, UCI

Several students in my graduate program are putting together this year’s graduate conference in Visual Studies at UCI: The Aesthetics of Austerity on April 4th and 5th, 2013. Last year, I participated in the “Pechakucha” event, which was a really interesting way to present research. “Pechakucha” (ペチャクチャ: chattering; chit-chat) is basically a presentation format that derives from Japan consisting of a 5-7 minute lightning presentation where your slides are timed to 20 seconds each and forward on their own. If you roll with it, it is a lot of fun! Will be curious to see everything this year from the other side of the room.

The Nature of Space, UCSD

I am thrilled to be presenting “Discovering Hokkaido: Postcards, Train Travel, and the Mapping of Tourist Space” at the 6th Annual Visual Arts Graduate Conference, The Nature of Space, at the University of California, San Diego on March 9th (Structural and Materials Engineering Building, 9:00am-3:30pm).

My panel is “Spaces of Imagination/Projection” (respondent: Norman Bryson; 12:30-2:00pm), and I am looking forward to hearing the other papers by Sean DeLouche, Laura Richard, Talia Shabtay, Sara Solaimani, and Heidi Effenberger.  Excited to check out UCSD as well!

Here is a link to the conference schedule for anyone interested and in town.