[Co-Sponsored with OPC] Reiko Tomii, “Thinking Operationally”

Please join us next WednesdayMay 15, at 4:45-6:45pm CTCWAC 152 for our next and very last VMPEA workshop of the academic year, co-sponsored with DoVA’s Open Practice Committee. This workshop features:


Reiko Tomii

Independent Art Historian and Curator


Who will be presenting the talk titled:

Thinking Operationally” 


Discussant: Tongji Philip Qian

Artist and Collegiate Assistant Professor, Department of Visual Arts, UChicago


This workshop will take place in-person only. Please see the abstract and bios for this workshop below.

We hope to see many of you there before the year ends!


Image Credit: Courtesy of Misa Shin Gallery, Tokyo.



The twin-book project that I launched in late 2022, “Thinking Operationally,” centers on the concept of “operation” as an integral part of art history. My starting point is a new definition of an artist labor, which in my definition consists of two parts, “expression” and “operation.” While the first type of labor, “expressions,” typically takes place inside the artist’s studio, the second type of labor, “operations,” concerns making their work public and, when necessary, building systems to support themselves and engage society outside the studio. By extension, I define “operation,” either by the artist and others, as a set of activities that generate channels or circuits through which the artist’s expression is communicated to society at large.

This view emerged from my close study of collectivism in modern Japan, which dates back to the last 19th century and continued into the 21st century. In fact, Japan serves as a counter reference point to the Euro-American idea of artistic autonomy, because artists’ group activities have been essential for advancing new art and for building new art systems in modern Japan.

Based on this conceptualization, I have envisioned the two-book project. The first is a one-year plan to write a small book, titled “Thinking Operationally,” in Japanese to outline the theoretical import of “operations” in modern Japan and examine seven topics including Gutai, artist-organized independent exhibitions, and Tokyo Biennale 1970. For this part, I have a publisher confirmed (East Press in Tokyo) and I am in the process of completing the first draft. The second is a five-year plan to follow the first, for which I am planning an English-language survey of 1960s art in Japan which will reconsider the role and place of “operation” by focusing on the exhibition history. Provisionally titled “Exhibition as Expression, Exhibition as Operation,” the book will explore the exhibitions as the vital site of communication and socialization of expression for artists as much as curators and museums. In doing so, the book will illuminate the crucial postwar decade when Japan’s contemporary art rapidly expanded in a dual drive of both a top-down push of institutionalization in the mainstream and a bottom-up urgency of the wilderness.



Reiko Tomii is an independent scholar and curator specializing in postwar Japanese art history. In 1988–92, she worked at the Center for International Contemporary Art (CICA), where her first project involved organizing a personal archive of Kusama Yayoi for CICA’s inaugural exhibition. Kusama’s first retrospective in the U.S. in 1989, for which Tomii collaborated with Alexandra Munroe, brought the Japanese artist back to New York and in retrospect launched Kusama’s ascendance to global super stardom. Since 1992, upon the closure of CICA, Tomii has worked as independent scholar. She collaborated with Munroe on the latter’s book published in conjunction with the exhibition Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky.

Curatorially, she worked with Queens Museum of Art in New York for Global Conceptualism, Tate Modern in London for Century City, and Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles for Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art, among many others. While widely published in the area of modern and contemporary Asian art, she has enjoyed working with younger and emerging scholars, and co-founded PoNJA-GenKon with Miwako Tezuka in 2003.

Tomii’s first monograph Radicalism in the Wilderness: International Contemporaneity and 1960s Art in Japan (MIT Press, 2016) received the 2017 Robert Motherwell Book Award and was turned into an exhibition Radicalism in the Wilderness: Japanese Artists in the Global 1960s at Japan Society Gallery in New York in 2019. In 2020, she received the Commissioner for Cultural Affairs Award from the Japanese government for cultural transmission and international exchange through postwar Japanese art history.

She is currently preparing for the publication of her second monograph, Thinking Operationally: Toward a Global Narration of Japanese-Type Modernism. Published by East Press in Tokyo, the book is her first monograph in Japanese and will serve as the foundation of her third monograph, to be published in English, provisionally titled, Exhibition as Expression, Exhibition as Operation: Japanese Art in the 1960s and 1970s.


Tongji Philip Qian is a multidisciplinary artist and the co-founder of TPQ Studio. As artist, he is interested in capturing the edge of an artistic practice through his idiosyncratic definitions of #speed, #labor, #internationalism, and #immigration. His art writing, on the other hand, studies movements commonly associated with Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, and Conceptual art. Tongji Philip Qian’s recent projects include “No-risk Hour” (2019–), “Neighborly Passport Keep Right Except to Pass” (2023), “Questionnairing Reality” (2021), and “Art Beside a Single Handshake” (2020). His work is housed in a number of public collections, such as the Asia Art Archive in America, Center for Book Arts, and the RISD Museum. Qian received his BAs in art history and mathematics from Carleton College and his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Tongji Philip Qian is currently a Harper-Schmidt Fellow and Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago. 

In spring 2024, Qian launched the State VIII Project (2024-2027), an artist-run project space in Hyde Park, Chicago, USA, and the State VIII Project Artist and Writer Residency Program, a free-of-charge experience offering creative professionals uninterrupted time and space to consider their work.

Feng Schöneweiß, “Provenance, Memory, and Transcultural Monumentality: Chinese Monumental Vase as ‘national wertvolles Kulturgut’ in German Cultural History, 1717–2019”

We cordially invite you to join us next *Monday*May 6, at 4:45-6:45pm CT for a special virtual-only session. Please register for zoom access here. This workshop features:


Feng Schöneweiß

Postdoctoral Fellow, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz—Max-Planck-Institut


Who will be presenting the paper titled:

“Provenance, Memory, and Transcultural Monumentality: Chinese Monumental Vase as ‘national wertvolles Kulturgut’ in German Cultural History, 1717–2019


*Please note the special day and format of this event.* The abstract and bio for this workshop can be found below.


~We hope to see many of you there~


Image: Walter Möbius (1900–1959), photograph of the banquet hall, 1933. Three-century jubilee exhibition “August der Starke und seine Zeit” [Augustus the Strong and his time] at the Dresden Residence Schloss, 13 April to 17 September 1933. Deutsche Fotothek, df_hauptkatalog_0051726. © SLUB / Deutsche Fotothek / Möbius, Walter



The concept of cultural heritage in modern nation states is often associated with the connotation of the national. From the perspectives of global art history and transcultural studies, how to understand the accumulation of national significance in the formation of transcultural heritage? This paper addresses the merging conceptual dichotomy by a case study of transcultural monumentality. It examines how one of the so-called Dragoon Vases (Dragonervasen), large blue-and-white porcelain jars with lids made in Jingdezhen in circa 1690, became a cultural property of national significance (national wertvolles Kulturgut), the highest level of cultural heritage defined by Cultural Property Protection Act (Kulturgutschutzgesetz) in Germany. Based on a survey and typology of Chinese monumental vases (chinesische Monumentalvasen), a period term invented by museum professionals at the Dresden Porcelain Collection around 1900, the paper investigates the identity-forming impact of both the vases and their provenance on the eighteenth-century Porcelain-Regiment of Prussia, the baroque locality of Dresden in the eyes of travelers, generations of nineteenth- and twentieth-century German museum professionals, and the institutional identity of the collection. Substantiated with archives, inventories, architectural and exhibition designs, photography, and manuscripts in Dresden, the paper argues that the provenance of the Chinese vases, rather than their extraordinary materiality, embedded the global objects in the local cultural memory that contextualized the transculturation of heritage.


Feng Schöneweiß is an art historian of ecocritical and transcultural perspectives. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the 4A_Lab, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz–Max-Planck-Institut (KHI) in cooperation with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. At the KHI, his postdoc project examines the mutual making of porcelain and Jingdezhen eco-systems through the analytical lens of energy consumption. Feng earned his doctorate in East Asian art history and transcultural studies at the University of Heidelberg. He was among the cohort at the inaugural University of Chicago/Getty Dissertation Workshop on Chinese Art History in 2018. His dissertation explores how German museum professionals fostered the cultural memory of transcultural objects while initiating a new field of art-historical inquiry. The current paper is a chapter of his first book manuscript, titled “Provenance and Monumentality: Chinese Porcelain, German Curators, and Global Art History in Dresden from 1700 to 2020.”

Feng has received grants and fellowships from American Ceramic Circle, Bei Shan Tang Foundation, DAAD, German Research Foundation (DFG) Excellence Initiative, Historians of Eighteenth-Century Art and Architecture, Max Planck Society, and University of Heidelberg. He has published in Chinese, English, and German, and made curatorial contribution to major exhibitions at Berlin State Museums, Dresden State Art Collections, Museum of Applied Art in Frankfurt am Main, and Shanghai University Museum.

[Co-sponsored with RAVE] Jenny Harris, “Ray Johnson, Sybil Shearer, and the Taoist Collages”

Please join us on Wednesday, April 24, at *5:30-7:30pm CT*, at CWAC 152 for a workshop co-sponsored by VMPEA and RAVE (Research in Art and Visual Evidence). This workshop features:


Jenny Harris

PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago

Who will be presenting the paper titled:

“Ray Johnson, Sybil Shearer, and the Taoist Collages” 

Discussant: Lucien Sun

PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago

~Reception to follow in the CWAC Lounge~

*Please note the special time of this event.* This workshop will take place in-person. The abstract and bios for this workshop can be found below.


We hope to see many of you in CWAC 152!


In 1955, Ray Johnson, an artist based in New York who would go on to become a pioneer of mail art, sent a group of 30 “Taoist Collages” to choreographer Sybil Shearer, then living in Northbrook, Illinois. Previously unknown to scholars of Johnson’s work, the collages were discovered in Shearer’s attic and subsequently purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2022. In this talk, I’ll discuss the various ways the Taoist collages tell a new story about Johnson’s ties to the world of dance. By presenting this work jointly at the RAVE and VMPEA workshops, I hope to solicit feedback and suggestions about how I might develop a more thorough account of Johnson’s engagement with East Asian culture and ideas.



Jenny Harris is a Ph.D. candidate specializing in twentieth-century art at the University of Chicago. Her research explores global modernism with interests in the relationships between abstraction and ornament, dance and visual art, and craft and design. Her writing has appeared in several exhibition catalogues, Artforum, the Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, and the New York Times. Between 2013 and 2019, she worked in The Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Painting and Sculpture where she assisted with the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective and the reinstallation of the collection. She also co-organized the 2019 Exhibition Artist’s Choice: The Shape of Shape with Amy Sillman and Michelle Kuo. In 2022-3, she worked as a Chicago Objects Study Initiative Fellow in Modern and Contemporary at the Art Institute of Chicago. She graduated from Wellesley College with a B.A. in Art History in 2012.

Lucien Sun is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Fudan University, Shanghai. In 2017–18, he was a Sumitomo Corporation visiting student at the University of Tokyo studying Japanese collections of Chinese and East Asian art. His dissertation explores the dynamic relationship between regional space and the visual culture of southern Shanxi in north China between the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. He is also interested in the art of book and how picture in its broad sense moved across space, borders, and visual media in medieval Eurasia.

Minori Egashira, “Meiji-Period Okimono and the World’s Fairs”

Please join us on Thursday, April 4, for the first VMPEA workshop of the spring quarter, taking place at 4:45-6:45pm in CWAC 152. Due to conflict with another event, this talk has been rescheduled from Wednesday to Thursday, so please note the day is different from that announced in the previous schedule. This workshop will be featuring:


Minori Egashira

PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago


Who will be presenting the paper titled:

Meiji-Period Okimono and the World’s Fairs


For participants who would like to join us on Zoom, please register via this link. The abstract and bios for this event can be found at the end of this email.


~Hope to see many of you there!~




This project investigates the ambiguous genre of Meiji-period 明治時代 (1868–1912) okimono 置物 and their locus in modern Japanese sculptural history. Explicitly, the group of objects known as okimono seems to be treated as a more formal genre of sculpture unique to Japanese art in the Euro-Americas, while in Japan the category is comparatively less distinct. This project aims to answer this discrepancy, providing a means to see what happened when the Euro-American art categories were imposed onto Japanese aesthetic creations in the late 1800s.

This portion of the project, presented at the VMPEA Workshop, investigates okimono (and okimono-like objects) through the World’s Fairs. Taking into account artworks such as The Field Museum of Natural History’s The Monk Ikkyū (1892–3) by Okioka Eizō (n.d.)., the chapter argues that the term and genre okimono became “more canonized” in America (while the opposite happened in Japan) primarily through the Centennial Exposition of 1876, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 (the three expositions held in America during the Meiji period). Objects submitted to these expositions, such as those by Morikawa Toen’s 森川杜園 (1820–1894) and Suzuki Chōkichi’s 鈴木長吉 (1848–1919), will be examined as case studies.



Minori Egashira is a PhD candidate studying Meiji-period (1868–1912) sculpture and Japan’s artistic interactions with the world in modern and contemporary times. She received her BA in Art History from Wake Forest University in 2014 and her MA in Japanese Humanities from Kyushu University in 2017. Her broader interests include East Asian sculptural art and other three-dimensional objects, World’s Fairs, and investigating non-orthodox narratives of Japanese Art History. Her dissertation, tentatively titled “Okimono: Rethinking Modern Japanese Sculpture and Related Objects”, investigates the ambiguous genre of Meiji-period 明治時代 (1868–1912) okimono 置物 (often defined as smaller sculpture-like objects with no function) and their locus in modern Japanese sculptural history.


She is currently teaching a course in tandem with the “Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan” (2023–2024) exhibition, which is now on view at the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art. Please visit the galleries to learn more!

Namiko Kunimoto, “Feminism, Bourgeois Liberalism and Shimada Yoshiko’s Becoming a Statue of a Japanese ‘Comfort Woman’”

Please join us on Tuesday, February 27, for the next and last VMPEA workshop of this quarter, taking place at 4:45-6:45pm in *CWAC 156*. This workshop will be featuring:


Dr. Namiko Kunimoto

Associate Professor, Art History, The Ohio State University


Who will be presenting the paper:

“Feminism, Bourgeois Liberalism and Shimada Yoshiko’s Becoming a Statue of a Japanese ‘Comfort Woman’


Discussant: Dr. Chelsea Foxwell

Associate Professor, Art History, UChicago


*Please note the room change for this workshop.* For participants who would like to join us on Zoom, please register via this link. The abstract and bios for this event can be found below.


Hope to see many of you in the room before the quarter ends!


Image: Shimada Yoshiko, Becoming a Statue of a Japanese ‘Comfort Woman’ & The Tomorrow Girls Troop, Against Forgetting. Photograph by Qianwen Jiang.



This paper examines work by Shimada Yoshiko, the Tomorrow Girls Troop, as well as Korean artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, whose work likewise addresses inter-Asian colonialism and has drawn vociferous responses from various segments of the public. Specifically, I argue that Shimada’s performance work, Becoming a Statue of a Japanese ‘Comfort Woman,’ is not about revisiting a singular moment in time, but instead seeks to reveal how economic violence and social violence are ripple effects that share the same origin: specifically, a form of bourgeois liberalism that upholds patriarchy, attempts to maintain an image of societal unity, and disavows responsibility for the past.



Dr. Namiko Kunimoto is a specialist in modern and contemporary Japanese art, with research interests in diasporic art, gender, race, urbanization, photography, visual culture, performance art, transnationalism, and nation formation. She is the Director of the Center for Ethnic Studies at Ohio State University and Associate Professor in the Department of History of Art.

Her essays include “Olympic Labor and Displacement: Babel and Its Towers” in Review of Japanese Art and Culture, (2023), “Art in Transwar Japan” ThirdText (2022), Situating “Becoming a Statue of a Japanese ‘Comfort Woman:’ Shimada Yoshiko, Bourgeois Liberalism and the Afterlives of Japanese Imperialism” Verge: Studies in Global Asia, (2022) “Tsujimura Kazuko and the Body Object” in Asia Pacific Japan Focus (2021), and “Tactics and Strategies: Chen Qiulin and the Production of Space” in Art Journal (2019). Dr. Kunimoto’s awards include a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Fellowship, Japan Foundation Fellowships (2007 and 2016), Ishibashi Foundation Fellowship (2021), a College Art Association Millard/Meiss Author Award (2017), and the Ratner Distinguished Teaching Award (2019). Her book, The Stakes of Exposure: Anxious Bodies in Postwar Japanese Art, was published in February 2017 by the University of Minnesota Press and she is currently working on her next book, Urgent Animations: Afterlives of Japanese Imperialism in Transpacific Contemporary Art.


Dr. Chelsea Foxwell’s scholarship ranges from the medieval through modern periods of Japanese art with special emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries. She is the author of Making Modern Japanese-Style Painting: Kano Hōgai and the Search for Images (2015). In 2012 she co-curated the exhibition Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints with Anne Leonard at the Smart Museum of Art.

Her work focuses on Japan’s artistic interactions with the rest of East Asia and beyond, nihonga and yōga (Japanese oil painting); “export art” and the world’s fairs; practices of image circulation, exhibition, and display; and the relationship between image-making and the kabuki theater.

A member of the Committee on Japanese Studies and the Center for the Art of East Asia, she is a contributor to the Digital Scrolling Paintings and the Reading Kuzushiji projects.

Mirae kh RHEE, “Collecting Crave: Curiosity Cabinets from Saxony to Joseon”

We are very excited to invite you to the next VMPEA workshop taking place TuesdayFebruary 13, from *5-7pm* at CWAC 152. This workshop will be featuring:


Mirae kh RHEE

Artist-Researcher, Museum für Asiatische Kunst and Ethnologisches Museum, Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin


Who will be presenting the paper

“Collecting Crave: Curiosity Cabinets from Saxony to Joseon”


For those who would like to participate on Zoom, please register through this link. The abstract and bio for this presentation can be found below.


~We hope to see many of your faces in CWAC 152~



Image: Choi Chul Lim, Incheon Art Platform



RHEE’s artistic project invites us into the long history of the collector and collections from both East Asia and Western Europe. The artist’s interest in princely collections coupled with the critical examination of European acquired ethnographic objects takes us along the historical path of Jesuit priests who landed in the Portuguese colony of Macao to journey to the Beijing court of Ming Dynasty, the site of cultural exchange with Joseon Korea in the 17th-18th century. Interrogating presentation and collection practices of the male ruling elite and examining works from collections that extend from the famed Green Vault in Dresden to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the artist fashions her own Wunderkammer. Wunderkammern, or cabinets of curiosities, arose in mid-16th century Europe as repositories for wondrous objects but gradually appeared in 17th-18th century Qing China and Joseon Korea in the form of Chinese treasure boxes (Duobaoge) and Korean still-life genre painting of books and the scholar’s room (Munbangdo). This project is not just an intervention into the European, patriarchal, and colonial collection but a reinvention of the Korean version, called Munbangdo. From this jumping off point, RHEE collects objects from her network and communities, which are presented in various forms including drawing, painting, photography, ceramics, and augmented reality, engaging in hybrid analog and digital installations. Presenting objects in forms other than the original evokes the Confucian values of austerity and humility, since Koreans did not publicly display their collectibles, preferring painted screen portrayals. New forms of representation also imagine a new aura of objecthood to rethink beyond the Walter Benjamin argument that the artifact loses its aura through reproduction, and instead offering a unique way to experience aura beyond local, national, and geopolitical boundaries.



South Korean born social practice artist (이미래/李未來) Mirae kh RHEE’s transracial life experiences led her to work between the United States, South Korea, and Germany, where learning foreign languages, code-switching, and cultural traditions and customs continuously inform her artwork. Through the lens of transnational feminism, she creates complex research-based Gesamtkunstwerk(e) that tell autoethnographical narratives. RHEE received her MFA in Studio Art at the University of California-Irvine, where she was a Graduate Studies Diversity Scholar and Jacob K. Javits fellow. As the current Artist-in-Residence at the Museum für Asiatische Kunst and Ethnologisches Museum, Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, she is preparing for a solo exhibition. In 2025 the project will be on view at the Residenzschloss (Dresden Castle) as part of the Transnational Academy of the Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden. www.mirae-kh-rhee.com.

Chelsea Foxwell, “Photography/Realism/War: The Case of the First Sino-Japanese War, 1894-95”

We look forward to welcoming you to the next VMPEA workshop, with a very special presentation by the department’s own and director of the Center for East Asian Studies, Professor Chelsea Foxwell.


Professor Foxwell will be presenting on Photography/Realism/War: The Case of the First Sino-Japanese War, 1894-95.

The respondent will be Dr. Joel Snyder, Professor Emeritus on the History of Photography and Film.


The workshop will be held in Room 152 of the Cochrane Woods Art Center on Wednesday, February 7th from 4:45 to 6:45 PM. This will be an in-person talk.


Please see below the flyer, abstract, and bio for Professor Foxwell’s presentation.

And, as always, we look forward to seeing you there!


The first Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) was the first Japanese war with embedded photographers to document the conflict. The crisp photographs, once they had been developed and printed in Japan, seemed to testify to what an Illustrated London News reported called the “essentially modern and business-like method” of the Japanese offensive. [1] Shortly after the war’s conclusion, the Japanese government sent a monumental hand-woven tapestry to the Aoi Matsuri (Aoi Festival) to the widow of the Secretary of State Walter Q. Gresham, the American diplomat who had facilitated the treaty negotiates with Qing China. While the tapestry and the surviving corpus of war photographs might seem to represent opposite ends of the spectrum of art of the Meiji era (1868-1912), together they help us evaluate the truth claims and political agendas of late nineteenth-century Japanese art.
[1] ILN quoted in Rhiannon Paget, “Imagery of Japanese Modern Wars in the Western Media,” in Conflicts of Interest: Art and War in Modern Japan (St. Louis Art Museum, 2016), 57.
Chelsea Foxwell’s scholarship ranges from the medieval through modern periods of Japanese art with special emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries. She is the author of Making Modern Japanese-Style Painting: Kano Hōgai and the Search for Images (2015). In 2012 she co-curated the exhibition Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints with Anne Leonard at the Smart Museum of Art. Her work focuses on Japan’s artistic interactions with the rest of East Asia and beyond, nihonga and yōga (Japanese oil painting); “export art” and the world’s fairs; practices of image circulation, exhibition, and display; and the relationship between image-making and the kabuki theater. A member of the Committee on Japanese Studies and the Center for the Art of East Asia, she is a contributor to the Digital Scrolling Paintings and the Reading Kuzushiji projects.
Joel Snyder is Professor Emeritus of the History of Photography and Film in the University of Chicago’s Art History Department. Publications of his range from the essays to book publications, and interests of his include the history of photography, theory of photography and film, history and theory of perspective, Medieval and Renaissance theory of visions; critical theory, aesthetics, and the theory of representation. He was the Co-Editor of the journal Critical Inquiry, a quarterly devoted to critical theory in the arts and human sciences.

Lisha He, “Emperor Qianlong and His Alcove Daybed with Wall-filling Mirrors”

We cordially invite you to join us for our next meeting of VMPEA, taking place *Friday, November 17* from 4:45-6:45pm CT at CWAC 152, featuring:


Lisha He

Visiting PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago

School of Architecture, Tianjin University


Who will be presenting the paper

Emperor Qianlong and His Alcove Daybed with Wall-filling Mirrors”


Discussant: Yan Jin

PhD Student, Art History, UChicago


*Please note the special date of this event.* For Zoom participants, please register at this link (password: 000000). And please see the abstract and bio of our presenter below.

We hope to see many of you in CWAC 152!


Image: Alcove Daybed in Changchun shuwu, Yangxindian.



With the breakthrough of plate glass-making technology in the West, and Sino-Western material exchange in the 18th century, glass mirrors were introduced to the Qing Court, and were widely used in interior design. An alcove daybed with one or two wall-filling mirrors was a unique spatial pattern created and favored by Emperor Qianlong. This design was not only found in his commissions within the Forbidden City but also in the gardens of western Beijing suburbs and the summer residence in Jehol.

As most of these buildings were destroyed, I will first provide a brief overview of the reconstruction results. While the quantity and placement of glass, along with its interaction with individuals on the daybed, may vary across cases, they consistently reflect Emperor Qianlong’s intention to construct a room enclosed by mirrors.

Finally, I will focus on the Bilin Gloriette (碧琳館) in the Garden of Jianfu Palace, where this spatial pattern was first applied. The spatial context of the Bilin Gloriette, Emperor Qianlong’s interaction with mirrors, and his insights on self-cultivation imply that this room is designed for cultivating inner vacancy. Presumably, it embodies Zhuangzi’s metaphorical concept of Vacant Room (虛室) through the strategic use of mirrors.



HE Lisha is a PhD Candidate in the School of Architecture, Tianjin University. Her research focuses on non-structural carpentry and interior space of Qing palace buildings. With special interest in the Qianlong Period, she is currently working on interior space with glass and glass mirrors commissioned by Emperor Qianlong.


Yan JIN is a PhD student in Art History at UChicago studying visual and material culture of late imperial China, with a special focus on the art of Qing court. Her research explores issues of cross-regional exchanges, intermediality, as well as objects and agency.

Alice Casalini, “The Malleable Space of Gandhāran Art”

We cordially invite you to join us next Wednesday, May 10, from 4:45-6:45 pm CT for a VMPEA & RAVE joint workshop, featuring:


Alice Casalini

PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago

Who will be presenting the paper

“The Malleable Space of Gandhāran Art”

Discussant: Andrew Ollett

Neubauer Family Assistant Professor, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, UChicago

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

4:45–6:45 pm CT, CWAC 152

*You can also use this link to join the talk on Zoom. No registration is required. The password is “malleable”.

A light reception will follow at the department lounge.


“Three architectural elements from Gandhāra,” digital collage, 2023.



The monasteries of Gandhāra were teeming with an incredible array of images that adorned virtually every available surface. From carved panels that covered the walls, to icons and stelae that were installed in chapels and encroached the space of corridors and passageways, every monument was adorned with stone and stucco reliefs, while statues were meticulously gilded and painted. These objects, along with the perishable materials that did not survive in the archaeological record, came together to create an aesthetic of visual abundance.

The talk seeks to explore the role of this aesthetic in the context of the early Buddhist schools of Gandhāra. While textual sources are often used to shed light on these debates, the visual program in the monasteries  played a significant role in shaping the Buddhist path to liberation in its own right and in a parallel fashion to the textual sources.


Alice Casalini received her BA and MA in Languages and Civilizations of Asia and Mediterranean Africa from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and studied Buddhist archaeology at the School of Archaeology and Museology of Peking University. She has conducted archaeological work in Italy, China, and Pakistan. Her research focuses on early Buddhist art and architecture of Northern India, Central Asia and Western China. Her dissertation, tentatively titled “Paradigms of Beholding: the architecture of religious experience in Gandhāra,” explores the ways in which sacred spaces and religious objects create avenues for spiritual transformation. Alice is also a visual artist and illustrator.


Andrew Ollett is Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations. He studies the literary and intellectual traditions of South Asia, including works composed in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhramsha, and Kannada, mostly falling within the first millennium of the common era. His research has focused on the “question of language”: the availability and choice of certain languages for certain purposes, and the role of language in cultural production and change.  He is the author of Language of the Snakes: Prakrit, Sanskrit, and the Language Order of Premodern India (2017). His current projects include an edition and translation of the Prakrit romance Lilavai a book on the beginnings of manuscript literacy in South Asia, a book on context-dependency in South Asian philosophies of language and, with Sarah Pierce Taylor, an edition and translation of The Way of the Poet-King, a ninth-century manual of poetics in Kannada.

Wang Zonghui, “An Exploration on the spatial composition of the mKhar rdzong Cave in mKhar rtse Valley, mNga’ ris, Tibet”

Please join us on Monday, April 10, from 4:45 pm-6:45 pm CT for the second VMPEA workshop this spring, featuring:


Wang Zonghui

Visiting PhD Candidate, UChicago

Who will be presenting the paper

“An Exploration on the spatial composition of the mKhar rdzong Cave in mKhar rtse Valley, mNga’ ris, Tibet”


*This event will be conducted in English.

Discussant: Xiaotian YIN

PhD Candidate, Harvard University

Monday, April 10, 2023

4:45–6:45 pm CT, CWAC 152

*Please note the date change. You can also use this link to join the talk on Zoom. No registration is required. The password is “arth”

North wall of mkhar rdzong cave (Photo: Wang Ruilei)




mKhar rdzong cave is a Buddhist site located on the cliff of rdzong mountain in the mnga’ ris Region of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China. Discovered by archaeologists from Sichuan University and the Cultural Relics Administration Committee of Tibet Autonomous Region in 1996 and 1999, the cave is renowned for its stupa relics and distinctive visual program, which includes unique mandalas and intact ceiling decorations. This makes it a valuable subject for art historical research. In my previous work, I established that the cave is a “relic stupa (gdung rten) cave” that was created as part of Buddhist monks’ funeral rituals. In this paper, I will examine the iconographical program of the cave’s murals and argue how they express the concept of deliverance from suffering by this program. Furthermore, I will explore possible sources for such a design structure. Through this analysis, I hope to contribute to our understanding of the spiritual and artistic significance of this remarkable cave and to the broader study of Buddhist art and ritual practices in the region.


Wang Zonghui is a PhD candidate at the Center for Buddhist Art, School of Art and Archaeology, Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. Her research focuses on Sino-Tibetan Buddhist art, with a particular interest in the Western Himalayas, especially the mnga’ ris district of China.


Xiaotian YIN 尹筱天 is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University specializing in Buddhist art in Inner Asia and China from the tenth to the fourteenth century. Her dissertation, “Collecting Embers: Buddhist Art in Central Tibet in the Age of Fragmentation, from the tenth to the twelfth century,” investigates the transcultural entanglements of Buddhist art across Central Tibet, Song China, Tangut-Xixa, Nepal, and India during Tibet’s “Dark Age.”. Xiaotian is also interested in the Buddhist publishing and printing culture in Song, Liao, Tangut-Xixia, and Mongol-Yuan states. In 2022-2023, Xiaotian is a visiting scholar and a lecturer in the Department of Art History at Dartmouth College.


Hope to see many of you there,

Lucien Sun and Li Jiang

VMPEA Coordinators, 2022–2023