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March 18, 2012

Carol Stepanchuk's AAS guest blog

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Carol Stepanchuk, CCS Coordinator of Outreach and Student Services, shares observations from her trip to the Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in Toronto, Canada. We thank Carol for her time and attention.

Part 1 - New Ways of Seeing:
AAS is now in full swing--and for those who were able to caravan early to Toronto, there was time before the sessions to wander--the Art Gallery of Ontario (over 80,000 works of art) is only a 10-15 minute walk from the conference on Dundas Street West. Scholars mining the field of 18th century prints might scavenger hunt through "Goya and Gillray: Humor that Bites" to find Gillray's "Reception of the Diplomatique and His Suite at the Court of Pekin 1792." And, to see the palette of the AAS bag, just breeze through Contemporary Art from the Ago Collection (Dubuffet Texturologies, Warhol's silver Liz as Cleopatra, Franz Kline...). If you edge through the new wing to get closer to the part reminiscent of a Guggenheim wrap, you might think you are inside a giant fortune cookie.

Interesting facts for hotel guests: Monet painted on his armoire door instead of paying his hotel bill... (you can see the quality expected of such an exchange, the armoire door is on display).

Part 2:

From tornadoes in Ann Arbor to activism in Toronto, we've come to expect the unexpected. This also rings true for sideline activities skirting the conference proper.

AAS members roaming the Asian collections at ROM might have first bypassed a 6'7" knight in shining armor en route to catching a glimpse of Yuan dynasty wall murals (that invite a greater understanding of large scale art projects and painting practices) or the display figurines of Mongols, Chinese, Tibetans, and Arabs, an advertisement in the medieval contours of multiculturalism.

Others came by appointment or arrangement with ROM curators to see scrolls, prints, and textiles--the fabrics being a huge draw from the Thursday night roundtable on "Seeing through Chinese Costume and Textiles," a project at ROM in the making.

Some panels fits right in with a focus on the tactile as in "Wood to Stone and Beyond: Chinese architecture through the materials microscope," raising interesting questions about mimicry and close paraphrasing in the arts.

After the formal sessions and keynote address by Gail Hershatter, Friday night invited camaraderie at the many receptions from AAS to university and institute gatherings (University of Michigan being often confused with Harvard Yenching)...Not to mention the Gilbert and Sullivan Reception the night before that reminded me of a chance encounter years ago with Rauschenberg's cronies in Beijing--just art, song, and beverage...

Part 3 - The AA caravan returns:

As we mapped our individual ways through hundreds of panels at AAS, traversing culturescapes of all kinds, there were ways to set new trends and directions, collaborations and partnerships, traveling the borderlands and bridging disciplines

And, at the interstices, editorial boards and meetings--with continued support for staple publications (BTW, Education About Asia needs to be on all library shelves--if each AAS member helped to have his/her local public library subscribe...)

The exhibit hall was, of course, busy Sunday morning (the one place to go where products can still be accessed without a password) with last grabs for those who still had room in their bags...

And, you could continue to find out good advice while waiting to leave in the hotel lobby: from those in the know at University of Washington, must-see movies in Chinese film: anything by director Jia Zhangke (try "Still Life" for starters) and, for a bit of optimism, look to the elements- "In the Heat of the Sun," dir. Jiang Wen, or "Shower," dir. Zhang Yang.

The final word:
AAS offers tremendous support in helping outreach coordinators build a platform for understanding Asia. One of the journals whose editorial board meets at AAS is Education About Asia--a peer-reviewed teaching journal, now in its 17th year of publication--which is always looking for new submissions on a range of topical Asian themes, pedagogical methods and current resources--special sections on upcoming issues being "US, Asia & the World" and "Cyber Asia & Social Media." (Don’t hesitate to forward suggestions). Over several days, we all had a chance to venture into new territory, absorb the urban resources at hand, and engage both with academics and independent scholars as well as media specialists, vendors, editors, and teachers, not to mention a wide ranging staff of supporters and cultural enthusiasts. Historian Jeffery Wasserstrom blogged earlier about this year's AAS and the "mingling of cultures" (academics and journalists) where the number of non-academics in attendance is increasing. The tiers of participants are multi-textured/layered, and we all value a chance to appreciate the work and knowledge of scholars and others in the field.

As for grad students, think about next year's spring meeting in San Diego, a superb time for whale watching and expanding academic horizons.

Posted by zzhu at March 18, 2012 04:57 PM