Return to Earth workshop

Prof. Winther-Tamaki and students
Prof. Bert Winther-Tamaki and students in Tokyo

At the end of the 2023 fall quarter, fifteen UCI undergraduate art history majors and graduate students in the Ph.D. Program in Visual Studies presented papers at a workshop at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. The workshop was the culmination of a seminar taught by Professor Bert Winther-Tamaki on ecological issues in post-war Japanese art. Each student in the class researched a work of art included in the Mori Art Museum’s 20th anniversary exhibition “Our Ecology: Toward a Planetary Living,” curated in part by Professor Winther-Tamaki. In December, the seminar traveled to Tokyo, where the students presented their research at a public workshop titled “Return to Earth: Eco-Critical Approaches to the Study of Works of Art in the Our Ecology Exhibition.” This public workshop sponsored by the Mori Art Museum exclusively for UCI student presenters was attended by curators, faculty, and students from Japanese museums and universities. Advanced students from the Tokyo University of the Arts, the University of Tokyo, and Sophia University, Tokyo, served as discussants, presenting detailed responses to the UCI students’ research.

Our ecology poster

The Mori Art Museum, located on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, is a contemporary art museum with a global focus. It was founded in 2003 and their 20th anniversary exhibition featured work by thirty-four artists from around the world addressing the current worldwide environmental crisis, on local and global scales. Professor Winther-Tamaki’s section of the exhibition dealt with art and ecology in Japan from the 1950s through the 1980s, a period of rapid economic growth in Japan, as well as serious environmental challenges associated with natural disasters, industrial pollution, and nuclear testing. UCI graduate student Asako Katsura, whose dissertation research deals with conceptual art and photography in Japan and California in the 1960s-70s, compiled a detailed chronology of Japanese environmental history that covered an entire wall of the exhibition.

The museum workshop gave students a rare opportunity to participate in an international academic conference. As Myra McCants, a double major in Art History and Biology, put it, “Having the opportunity to give a presentation at the Mori Art Museum…contributed as a significant addition to my resume and gave me further motivation to pursue a career related to art history.”

Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
Curator ITO Takahiro of the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum gives a tour to the students

In addition to the workshop, Prof. Winther-Tamaki and two graduate student trip leaders, Asako Katsura and Zane Casimir, arranged for the students to spend a week visiting art exhibitions, museums, and historical sites in and around Tokyo. Curators at four other museums, including the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, gave the group personal tours of current exhibitions. Students also traveled to sites such as the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum and the monumental 13th-century bronze Daibutsu (Great Buddha) of Kamakura.

Students at Kamakura
UCI students at the Great Buddha of Kamakura

Art History major Michelle Weon commented, “the entire trip was jam-packed with many activities for gaining abundant insights and knowledge directly from curators of course-topic relevant exhibitions, while allowing both undergraduates and graduates to get to know each other personally."

This trip was made possible by generous support from the Steckler Family Initiative in Art History. 

Art History