Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

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‘sĀ  ruminations on otome gemu and the ways that fans in France build their own worlds through avatar creation and imagined romanceĀ 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…

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