Nina Horisaki-Christens

2017 Graduate Research Fellow (Academic)
Ph.D. Student, Art History-Japanese, Modern Art, Columbia University
Affiliation in Japan: Sophia University
Research Topic: Media Publics: Video Hiroba and the development of Video in Japanese Art, 1968-85

Utsushi-e Demonstration

Focused on Japanese Media Art History, Ms. Horisaki-Christens Discovers the Importance of Personal Interaction for Advancing Her Research

As a researcher of Japanese art history, Ms. Nina Horisaki-Christens recalls having a number of questions about her topic before finally obtaining an opportunity to come to Japan as a visiting researcher at Sophia University, Tokyo.

“I am researching a 1970s Japanese video, specifically related to art history,” Ms. Horisaki-Christens explains, “How were artists using the medium of video, and how did the term ‘video’ come to be used? The word started to be used in the early 1970s, but the actual technology was already in place by the late 1960s and some artists had been using video at that time. There is probably a reason for the change in use of that term.” She was very interested in an artist group called Video Hiroba (hiroba means a plaza, or an open common space in Japanese), who were using video as a tool for communication, rather than expression, at a time when expression was a major trend in the Japanese art scene.

At the beginning of her research in Japan, Ms. Horisaki-Christens enjoyed spending time in libraries and museums, searching for research-related documents. “I traveled to Japan with only a handful of texts that really dealt with this group,” Ms. Horisaki-Christens smiles grimly, “I really wanted to access the material.” However, two months later, she recognized that her priorities began to change. “I learned that there were many materials not held by museums, and that just meeting people was really important,” Ms. Horisaki-Christens recalls.

Ms. Horisaki-Christens remembers how, while attending various contemporary art events and introducing herself by explaining she was studying Video Hiroba, a number of people she was meeting for the first time surprisingly exclaimed “Oh! My professor worked with a member of that group!” or told her that they possessed some documents pertaining to it. “I made lots of connections without knowing then that these were the people who were going to be helpful in the future,” smiles Ms. Horisaki-Christens.

In addition to the advancement of her research, another major change occurred in Ms. Horisaki-Christens’ life while she was in Japan: she gave birth to a baby boy. Since Ms. Horisaki-Christens was busy with her research and her Japanese husband, who had been away from Japan for a long time, was busy connecting with arts professionals, as well, the Horisaki-Christens couple had to find someone to take care of their newborn baby boy. Ms. Horisaki-Christens remembers, “we applied to a regular day care in Kita ward, where we had been living, and we got a letter from the municipal government that recognized our need for day care, but informed us that they had only one opening in the entire ward for the baby’s age range!” From this incident, Ms. Horisaki-Christens learnt a harsh lesson on “nursery school hunting” which is experienced by Japanese mothers. However, she was fortunate to find several volunteer babysitters and a few days that she could use the drop-in day care until a spot opened up for her son at the start of the new school year.

According to Ms. Horisaki-Christens, one good aspect of Fulbright is that she could connect with local people. “While working in New York, I was focused on work all the time so that the people I interacted with were the people who had the same kinds of jobs as I did. But in Japan, I could connect with people from different backgrounds.” Further, Ms. Horisaki-Christens advises, “research is important and that’s why we are all here; but when you are really focused on research, it becomes difficult to take a moment to get to know people. However, meeting people can change the way you understand the work you are doing. Be open and proactive; there are so many ways that people can help you.”

Presentation at Post-media conference Geidai (Jan 2018)