Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Karil Kucera’s Ritual & Representation in Chinese Buddhism

9781604979176front Karil Kucera’s Ritual and Representation in Chinese Buddhism: Visualizing Enlightenment at Baodingshan from the 12th to 21st Centuries (Cambria Press, 2016) has been published! I have been Karil’s sabbatical replacement here at St. Olaf College for 2015-2016, and it is exciting to see the product of over 20 years of research on the site at Baodingshan in Sichuan Province, China.

Although my research does not focus on Buddhist Art, it remains one of my favorite topics to teach. Students have a natural curiosity about the unification of art and religion outside of the Christian tradition. When I teach sculpture from Dunhuang (China), the Yungang Grottoes (China), Hōryū-ji (Japan), or Hiraizumi (Japan), I want students to understand works not just as singular art objects, but as part of a larger design program that includes other works of sculpture, painting,  architecture, and text. These elements work together to define a patron’s experience. With her focus on the visualization of enlightenment, Karil describes the Great Buddha Bend at Baodingshan and the organic and multi-layered inclusion of tenets of Pure Land, Chan (Zen), Huayan, and Esoteric Buddhism.

The book is accompanied by a bilingual website,,  that serves as an excellent teaching resource. The “interactive tour” under the “in the classroom” section, in addition to the maps and walking tour are all particularly useful for scholars who want to teach this material with an awareness of spatial context. The challenge the art historian has, regardless of topic, is transporting students to the site–either physically or in the realm of the mind. By using these tools, students can develop an understanding of Baodingshan by traversing the geography of the physical site in digital space.

And for me, the website published alongside her book raises the importance of these kinds of digital accompaniments as a way to mitigate the limitations of academic publishing in a field so dependent on images.

Translation of Takashina Erika’s chapter on Yamamoto Hōsui’s Urashima

This has been in development for what seems like forever, but I am thrilled that my translation of Takashina Erika‘s essay “Sea of Hybridization: In Dispute over Urashima” (異種交配の海―「浦島」をめぐって) from the third chapter of her book The Sea Beyond: Hōsui, Seiki, Tenshin, and the West (異界の海 ―芳翠・清輝・天心における西洋) is now available and online as part of the Review of Japanese Culture and Society‘s special issue titled “Commensurable Distinctions: Intercultural Negotiations of Modern and Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture.”

This particular essay discusses oil painter Yamamoto Hōsui’s multi-figure painting Urashima (1893). Takashina’s research on this painting is exhaustive, to quote the editors of this issue. She painstakingly analyzes the iconography of Hōsui’s work that depicts the Japanese legend of Urashima Tarō to reveal deep connections and fractures between Japan, Europe, and Asia. Takashina compellingly frames Urashima as a complex and multivalent work that figures the ocean as a space of cultural hybridity, while projecting Hōsui’s aspirations for the future of Japanese modern art and transnational realpolitik in the Meiji era. Connected by a vast and primordial ocean, Hōsui negotiated an identity between Paris and Japan, and he saw art as having the power to cross borders through the sensorial and highly symbolic space of the imagination.

It is great to have a role in bringing Takashina’s work into conversation with other scholars exploring intercultural negotiations in this issue. Definitely check it out if you have an interest in yōga (western oil painting in Japan) or the arts of the Meiji era!