April 13, Katherine Tsiang

Friday, April 13,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 156 (Please note the room change from last quarter!)

Yungang to Longmen Transition?  Perspectives on Reading the Evidence

Katherine Tsiang
Associate Director, Center for the Art of East Asia |Department of Art History, University of Chicago

Bodhisattva in the Guyang Cave Longmen, dedicated by Lady Yuchi, wife of the Prince of Changle, redated to the 9th year of Taihe, 485.

This is based on a talk prepared for the Harvard workshop “Longmen Grottoes: New Perspectives” held last October at Harvard. Asked to speak on the transition between Yungang and Longmen, I examined the theme of transition on various levels and between and within different localities. This required reviewing the kinds of evidence that scholars have used in the study of these Buddhist cave shrines and different ways in which they have analyzed, prioritized, and applied this evidence to draw their conclusions. I’m continuing to reconsider the relationship between the Yungang and Longmen caves based on new readings of both textual and visual evidence. I present my talk as a modest tribute to Prof. Su Bai who died on February 1, 2018. He was a pioneering and towering figure in the study of Chinese archeology in China who I first met when he came to Chicago in the late 1980s. Su Bai was one if the founders of the program in archeology as a discipline at Peking University. He was a formidable authority on various areas of Chinese archeology and including Buddhist cave temples. Beginning in the 1950s, building on the groundbreaking study and detailed recording of Yungang and Longmen caves by Japanese scholars such as Sekino, Mizuno, and Nagahiro, Su Bai carried out his own research and refuted their conclusions about dating and periodization. His tireless spirit of inquiry and critical analysis of archeological and textual materials, as well as his kindness, are inspirational.

Friday, April 13,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Nancy P. Lin (nancyplin@uchicago.edu)

March 2, Noriko Murai

Friday, March 2,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 152

“Current Encounters: Water Imagery in John La Farge’s Japan-Inspired Works”

Professor Noriko Murai

Associate Professor, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Graduate Program in Global Studies, Sophia University

John La Farge (1835-1910), A Rishi Calling Up a Storm, 1897, watercolor and gouache over graphite. Cleveland Museum of Art.

This paper examines the blending of nature and culture that frequently appears in the Japan-inspired works by the American artist John La Farge (1835-1910). In demonstrating the recurrence of water imagery in these works, it proposes that the natural element of water was not only central to La Farge’s imagination of East Asia, but also enabled the artist to visualize an intermediary realm “where the edges of the real and the imaginary melt.” His exploration of such cross-cultural space where ordinary boundaries became destabilized was moreover mediated by Okakura Kakuzō 岡倉 覚三 (aka Tenshin 天心, 1863-1913), the Japanese art historian and critic who became his lifelong friend. In the existing studies on La Farge, Okakura has typically been assigned the role of a “native informant” who taught the American the principles of East Asian philosophy. This paper challenges this one-sided account and demonstrates that their relationship was more synergetic.

Friday, March 2,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 152

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Zhiyan Yang (zhiyan@uchicago.edu)

Feb. 16, Jiayi Zhu

Friday, February 16,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 152

Architecture and/or Miniature? The Informative Ambiguity of the Zhakou White Pagoda

Jiayi Zhu

Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

The Zhakou White Pagoda before sunset in December, 2017.

This paper is a case study of the Zhakou White Pagoda閘口白塔 (the white pagoda at the sluice gate) in Hangzhou. This 14-meter stone pagoda has been standing at the intersection of Qiantang River and Zhonghe River since the Wuyue Kingdom (907–978 CE). It is an octagonal structure imitating the timber-frame louge (pavilion) style pagoda. Rather than calling it architecture, scholars refer to it as a sculpture or a model. Why is this pagoda constructed in this specific way, larger than a conventional sculpture but smaller than a wooden-structured real pagoda? What aspects of the pagoda contributed to this ambiguity? And how this ambiguity influenced interactions between viewers and the Zhakou White Pagoda? What about the functions of this pagoda? These are some questions I will try to address.

Friday, February 16,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 152

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Nancy P. Lin (nancyplin@uchicago.edu)

Jan. 26, Paola Iovene

Friday, January 26,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 152 (Please note the room change from last quarter)

Landscape of Words: Stone Inscriptions in Romance on Lushan Mountain (1980)

Professor Paola Iovene

Associate Professor in Chinese Literature, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations , University of Chicago

Film still from Romance on Lushan Mountain (1980)

Considered “an iconic example of Chinese cinema from the Reform era,” Romance on Lushan Mountain (Lushan lian, 1980) was mostly shot on location in Autumn 1979. The gorgeous landscape of Lushan—its waterfalls and peaks enshrouded in clouds as well as its historical sites—underscores the growing affection between the protagonists and conveys a not-so-subtle vision of cultural nationalism in which love for the motherland and for ancient Chinese culture replaces party loyalty as markers of Chineseness in the early post-Mao era. This paper analyses the narrative function of recurrent shots of stone inscriptions, speculating on the significance of Chinese characters in cinema and on the concepts of landscape and location that emerge from this film.

Friday, January 26,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 152

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Nancy P. Lin (nancyplin@uchicago.edu)

Message from Professor Emeritus Norma Field

In an emailed response to the artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s recent work, Color Mushroom Cloud at the University of Chicago campus, a photograph of which we have included in VMPEA’s Winter Quarter schedule newsletter, Professor Emeritus Norma Field has raised several important questions and issues. We have posted her insights in full below, and we hope her message will encourage people to discuss the issues she has raised:


January 6, 2018

Dear Ms. Lin and the community of Visual and Material Perspectives on East Asia workshop participants:

I hope you will forgive this intrusion from a nonparticipant in your workshop, but as a former member of EALC and, like all of you, citizen of a fragile and precious world, I feel compelled to write about your use of the image of Cai Guo Qiang’s “Color Mushroom Cloud” to announce the winter quarter workshop schedule.

Let me candidly confess at the outset that coming of age in Japan as footage of the impact of atomic bombing (i.e., what happened under the mushroom clouds) became available with the lifting of US censorship, I was initially shocked, even incredulous, when I learned about the University’s plan to stage this detonation. I couldn’t attend the actual event because I was giving a talk elsewhere, but watching the videos, I became, and remain, heartsick.

But let me also quickly add that the source of this distress isn’t confined to a “Japan-US” history. The mushroom cloud, with its huge reach, was a manifestation of atmospheric tests conducted around the world by the nuclear powers—the US, UK, Soviet Union, France, and China—mostly in areas remote from the centers of power, preferably colonial or quasi-colonial sites inhabited by people who didn’t matter and who in any case had no say: Nevada, the Marshall Islands, Polynesia, Christmas Island, Algeria, Xinjiang, Kazakhstan, to give just a few examples. And under each of those clouds—and this is what dismays me about the circulation of the mushroom cloud sprung loose as an iconic image—were human beings and other living things whose health and habitat and livelihood were ravaged, often with intergenerational implications relevant to this day.

The very nature of radioactivity means that the nuclear industry (military and civil) entails potential harm for living things at every stage of its operations, from uranium mining to weapons and fuel (nuclear power) production to testing to waste storage. The production of plutonium in the name of national security in Hanford, Washington, for instance, exposed, at times deliberately, US citizens, workers, farmers, and residents, including African Americans and Native Americans, long after WWII was over.

And since we are at the University of Chicago, it’s worth noting this university’s role in postwar human radiation experiments. You can read about it online in a 1986 House of Representatives Subcommittee Report, American Nuclear Guinea Pigs: Thirty Years of Radiation Experiments on US Citizens. Its author, Edward Markey (currently Senator from Massachusetts), included a particular Chicago experiment among those he found notably “repugnant or bizarre,” one in which students and staff were fed real and simulated fallout from the Nevada Test Site. You can read about it on page 31 of the Report.

These issues may seem removed from the concerns of your workshop, so let me try to bring them closer with a few preliminary, overlapping questions.

(1) We would probably all acknowledge that context matters in our study of objects, including works of art. But which factors, and the degree of relevance of those factors, will be subject to debate. What contextual factors should be considered in assessing “Color Mushroom Cloud”? Given that the work was designed for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the first nuclear chain reaction, which was part of the Manhattan Project, originally intended to develop a nuclear weapon to defeat Nazi Germany but transferred to Japan after German surrender, should we consider the more than 200,000 deaths that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Precise numbers are necessarily hard to come by, but this figure only includes deaths through December of 1945. It is even harder to estimate the deaths that have occurred in the sites named in the very partial listing above, prolonged in time, in many if not most cases, wilfully undocumented.

(2) How should we evaluate the role of those who commissioned the work? The named actors are UChicago Arts and the Smart Museum. What role did Cai Guo Qiang’s status as an international artist play in their decision? Did it mitigate possible concerns about the work he might propose? What about the fact that he had been awarded the Hiroshima Art Prize? Did it help organizers feel further exempt from the need to scrutinize the project on its own terms, on the terrain of the University of Chicago, for this occasion? And how should we, the public recipients of the resulting product, assess these factors?

(3) Is the distinction of the mushroom cloud its detachability, such that it can be freed of context in a way that no image of the Holocaust, for instance, can? Even if we bracket the controversies, historical and current, and accept, for the sake of argument, that dropping the bomb on Japanese cities was justified for having shortened the war and that the technology later produced the benefit of nuclear power, the actual mushroom cloud itself can only be associated with destruction. American society has shown little tolerance for being shown what happened under the Hiroshima and Nagasaki clouds. An exhibition providing such a glimpse planned for the Smithsonian on the occasion of the 50th anniversary (1995) was canceled after a firestorm of protest and replaced with a display of the fuselage of the Enola Gay.

(4) How much should an artist’s expressed understanding of his works (“intention”) govern reception? For whom and how? Can the artistic intention to redeem or transmogrify succeed with any symbol associated with historically contentious events, not to say atrocities?

(5) What is the role of historical proximity? Despite official America’s rhetoric (the bomb ended the war and saved lives), there are several generations of Americans who both feared nuclear war (the Cuban missile crisis) and questioned the ethics of dropping the bomb, especially in the context of a robust antiwar movement (Vietnam). We all react with different degrees of intensity to potent images depending on what, however vaguely, we know about their references, whether we know anyone who has been impacted, and therefore, the frames of reference that kick in to generate our responses. The first reaction of a Japanese journalist friend from Fukushima to the videos of the “Color Mushroom Cloud” detonation was, “But didn’t the world just witness nuclear explosions–in Fukushima?” The implicit question in her response was, “How could people be cheering and applauding?” I have to admit that Fukushima didn’t come to my mind in this context, even though it has been my abiding concern since retirement.

(6) How does “Color Mushroom Cloud” compare with images that proliferated in American popular culture in the 1950s and 60s? You will find many online. I have been remembering a silver medallion that a young Native American friend, living downwind and downstream of Los Alamos National Laboratory, was given by a Department of Defense or Energy official when he went to an event as a young boy: it depicted the Virgin Mary emerging from a mushroom cloud.

(7) Finally, the question of presumed audience: it’s worth comparing the 57-second University video with the 2-minute video presumably taken by someone in the audience. Neither of these videos, by the way, shows the small group of students who staged a die-in, moving quickly to the base of Moore’s sculpture while all eyes were turned upward. After the smoke dissipated, their gaze returned to the ground where the bodies were strewn.

My thanks to all of you who have read through any part of this. I am writing in the hope of stimulating discussion for our fraught and anxious times.

Sincerely yours,

Norma Field
Emeritus professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations

Dec. 1, Yifan Zou

Friday, December 1,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 156

Traditions Reinterpreted: Text and Image in Wu Zhen’s Eight Views of Jiahe (1344)

Yifan Zou

Department of Art History, University of Chicago

Wu Zhen 吳鎮 (1280-1354), Eight Views of Jiahe 嘉禾八景 , 1344,  ink on paper handscroll, 37.5 x 566 cm.

This paper explores the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) painter Wu Zhen’s 吳鎮 (1280-1354) depiction of his hometown in Eight Views of Jiahe 嘉禾八景 (1344), a 37.5 x 566 cm paper handscroll with ink renderings of eight scenes and accompanying text. Despite several previous excursions into this scroll, I propose still another trip back to the Jiahe. Not only does the “hypnotic effect” of the “eight views” topic encourage a periodic retelling, but due to their different focuses, most previous studies have not examined the work’s text and images as a coherent whole. This paper will explore how different traditions—the tradition of the Eight Views, and the traditional relationship between map and text in Chinese gazetteers, especially Song dynasty tujing 圖經 (cartographic classics)—were reinterpreted in Wu Zhen’s Eight Views of Jiahe. The questions that can be raised from an exploration of this work are broader than might be expected. Could it help us discover how Wu Zhen—a painter who lived most of his life in obscurity—made his way around the territory? In what way did he translate knowledge from tujing to the Jiahe handscroll to make it an appealing fundraising tool for local site? Where can we pin this work on the spectrum from maps to landscape paintings? Finally, how might this work lead us to approach the question of professionalism in the realm of cartography before European cartographic techniques were introduced to China? While it is impossible to resolve these questions, this paper will attempt to contribute to them.


Friday, December 1,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Nancy P. Lin (nancyplin@uchicago.edu)

Nov. 10, Boqun Zhou

Friday, November 10,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 156

The Mechanical Heart: Analogies of the Lever and Leverage in Early China

Boqun Zhou

Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

This paper explores the use of mechanical metaphors to formulate ethical, political, and military arguments in the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.E.). As the social and intellectual atmosphere became increasingly utilitarian, philosophers took eager interest in the mechanical advantage brought by the lever and used it to explain political and military leverage (controlling/defeating the many with the few). As a result, a group of lever-related metaphors were gradually introduced into the standard terminology of power dynamics. Two ways of using the lever came to have considerable metaphorical significance: as a weighing machine (the scale), it was associated with balanced moral judgment in ethical philosophy; as a weight-lifting machine (the well sweep), it was associated with manipulative strategies of obtaining leverage in political and military thought. The origin and meaning of these metaphors will be examined to demonstrate how ancient machine technology gave rise to new paradigms of social thought.


Friday, November 10,  4:30 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Nancy P. Lin (nancyplin@uchicago.edu)


MON. Nov. 6, YI Song-Mi

Monday, November 6,  5:00 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 156

Symbolism and Functions of Korean Palace Screen Paintings

Yi Song-mi 李成美

Professor Emerita of Art History,

The Academy of Korean Studies 韓國學中央硏究院

Screen of Ten Symbols of Longevity, 1880, 10 panels, ink and colors on silk each panel: 201.9 x 52.1cm. Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon

Unlike the majority of landscape paintings of the Joseon dynasty that were done in ink or in ink and light colors, screen paintings produced and used in Korean palaces were mostly in brilliant colors. Due to the trends in Korean art history research during the twentieth-century that have been heavily concentrated on ink paintings of literati orientations, these colorful paintings had been relegated to the “lesser” category of art. However, recent studies on uigwe (儀軌) royal documents as well as other literary and historical sources shed much light in identifying the themes of the palace screen paintings and their specific functions within the state rites of various categories. This also led to the investigation into the symbolic meanings of the palace screens. This lecture will demonstrate how the securely dated documentary evidence such as uigwe can “re-position” the colorful screen paintings of the Joseon period which, at times, were labeled as “folk paintings.”


Monday, November 6,  5:00 – 6:30 pm, CWAC 156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Nancy P. Lin (nancyplin@uchicago.edu)


THURS. Nov. 2, ITO Miro

Thursday, November 2,  5:00 – 7:00 pm, CWAC 156

Art as Media is a Message for Universality: Road of Light and Hope: The Eurasian Trail of Wisdom (Σοφια) —between East and West

ITO Miro

Artist, author, and initiator of Media Art League

Internationally recognized artist and author ITO Miro, who has been working to promote awareness of ancient Asian/Eurasian cultural heritage and traditions preserved in Japan, will present three short films: “Great Buddha Lives!”, “Gigaku + Road of Masks”, “Life of Masks: Bugaku at Kasuga-taisha Shrine + Bugaku at Wakamiya Onmatsuri Festival” and speak about her exhibition, “Road of Light and Hope: National Treasures of Todai-ji Temple, Nara,” which features photo art hanging scrolls of ancient National Treasures of Japan and Important Cultural Properties of Japan. The exhibition runs from November 1st to 28th, 2017 at the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago.


Thursday, November 2,  5:00 – 7:00 pm, CWAC 156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Nancy P. Lin (nancyplin@uchicago.edu)

Fall Schedule 2017

Visual and Material Perspectives on East Asia is proud to present our schedule for Fall 2017.

All sessions unless otherwise noted will take place on Fridays from 4:30-6:30pm in the Cochrane-Woods Art Center (CWAC) Room 156

Wang Jin, A Chinese Dream, performance by Wang Jin in 1998 at the Ming Tombs outside Beijing, photo by Shi Xiaobing


*Thursday, October 5, Professor Adrian Favell
Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, University of Leeds
“After the Tsunami: Japanese Contemporary Art since 2011”
*Note: This talk will take place on Thursday from 5-7pm

*October 13, Professor GU Zheng
Vice-Director of the Research Center for Visual Culture, School of Journalism,
Fudan University | Visiting Scholar, Harvard-Yenching Institute
“Between Journalism and Propaganda: The Assassination of Song Jiaoren in Minglibao”
*Note: This talk will be delivered in Chinese

*Thursday, November 2, ITO Miro
Independent artist, author, and producer
“Art as Media is a Message for Universality: Road of Light and Hope: The Eurasian Trail of Wisdom (Σοφια) — between East and West”
*Note: This talk will take place on Thursday from 5-7pm

November 10, Boqun Zhou, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago
“The Mechanical Heart: Analogies of the Lever and Leverage in Early China”

November 17, Zhenru Zhou, Ph.D. Student
Department of Art History, University of Chicago
“A Visual Study of the Front Panel of a Tang Dynasty Buddhist Shrine”

December 1, Yifan Zou, Ph.D. Student
Department of Art History, University of Chicago
“Traditions Reinterpreted: Text and Image in Wu Zhen’s Eight Views of Jiahe (1344)”


We look forward to your attendance and hope you will share this with all who might also be interested in joining our community. Please direct questions and inquiries to Nancy P. Lin at nancyplin@uchicago.edu.