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For the 13th consecutive year, the Carleton College women’s soccer team earned the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s (NSCAA) Team Academic Award after posting a team cumulative GPA of 3.57 for the 2012-13 academic year. The Knights have earned this honor every year since 2001.
The Carleton College men’s soccer team has earned yet another National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s (NSCAA) Team Academic Award after posting a team cumulative GPA of 3.34 for the 2012-13 academic year. The Knights have received this award each year since 2000.
Both Carleton College cross country teams are headed to the NCAA Division III Championships to be hosted by Hanover College (Ind.) on Saturday, Nov. 23. Each Knight squad is nationally ranked and rides a wave of momentum into nationals. The six-kilometer women’s race begins at 11 a.m. ET followed by the men’s eight-kilometer competition at 12:30 p.m. ET. Live video of the meet is available via NCAA.com. Results will be posted on the NCAA Championships website.
By Joel Jaeger ’14, PoliticOle Columnist
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a map nerd. I convinced my podmates to hang nine different maps in our common room, I memorize world capitals for fun, and I’m still livid that the GeoChallenge app was taken off Facebook several years ago (but everyone’s angry about that).
Long story short, this means that I’m about to spew off some fun facts and anecdotes about maps at you. I promise, it does relate to politics in some way. Maps affect and reflect the nature of international relations.
Was North Always Up?
North may seem like the obvious choice for the top of a map, but that’s mainly because it has been the convention for so long. The Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy is often credited with putting the north firmly at the top in the 2nd century CE, but it was the development and spread of the compass in the 1200s to 1500s that cemented its position. Sailors had long used the North Star for navigation since it doesn’t move much over the course of the year, so when the compass demonstrated that the star was roughly centered over the magnetic North Pole, it seemed natural to place north at the top.
However, before the compass gained popularity, maps often placed east at the top, presumably because the sun rises in the east. The term “to orient” comes from these Middle Aged maps. The perspective of a map depends on the relative location of the cartographer, so west and south have both had their day in the sun as well. For example, early North American settlers often put the unknown west on the top of their maps.
In some ways, the north’s current position at the top reflects the Northern Hemisphere’s geopolitical dominance in the last few centuries. Resentful Australians have taken to making upside-down maps to combat this bias, but they haven’t caught on elsewhere yet. The Northern Hemisphere contains sixty-eight percent of the world’s landmass and ninety percent of its population.
When Google Maps Caused an International Crisis
Cartography can be a risky job when neighboring countries have different interpretations of their borders. In 2010, a Nicaraguan general moved troops across the border into Costa Rica, set up camp, began the dredging of a river, and raised a Nicaraguan flag. When confronted about his intrusion on Costa Rican sovereignty, the general said that the land was shown as part of Nicaragua on Google Maps. He was right; Google Maps had somehow placed the border a small ways south of where it should have been, giving Nicaragua a few extra square miles. That particular border had been disputed for decades, so even when Google Maps adjusted the line and clarified that its maps shouldn’t be taken as the literal truth, the general refused to leave, citing 19th century treaties that he believed hadn’t been followed properly. The incident was not necessarily Google Maps’ fault, but it did get itself in quite a mess.
Maps and the Cold War
During the Cold War, maps were used as propaganda pieces by the United States and the Soviet Union. The two countries looked fairly distant from each other on typical map projections, but a spate of polar-centered projections emerged in the 1940s to point out that a nuclear missile didn’t have to cross the Atlantic Ocean, but only the Arctic Ocean, to reach the other side. These maps weren’t propaganda per se, but they did play on Cold War fears.
The Mercator projection, which represents all lines of latitude and longitude as perfectly perpendicular to each other, was a favorite of anti-Communist propagandists, since it inflates the size of any land that is close to the poles (for example, Greenland looks about the same size as Africa on a Mercator projection, when in reality Africa is fourteen times the size of Greenland). On a Mercator projection, the Soviet Union appears to be a sprawling menace, capable of swallowing Europe and Asia whole. Look at it on a globe, and it’s still big, but not quite as scary.
For Fellow Cartophiles
If you’re interested in world history and maps, check out these incredible websites. They show the evolving boundaries of civilizations, empires, and countries over time. The first has an easy user interface and handy historical information, but includes few time periods. The second is less intuitive to use, but has more raw data across a greater time span.
Plus, if you haven’t yet, the next time you want to take a study break in the library, head over to the reference room and peruse the latest edition of the Oxford Atlas of the World. Last I checked it was in the middle of the far left bookshelf. It’s worth a look, particularly the satellite images of world cities.
Joel Jaeger ’14 is a Political Science major from Circle Pines, Minnesota. Joel is a regular PoliticOle columnist. You can reach Joel at email@example.com.
Carleton College’s annual holiday Craft and Custodial Bake Sale will take place on Friday, December 6 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Class of 1980 Commons of the Weitz Center for Creativity. A wide variety of hand-crafted items and baked goods will be available for purchase, ranging from jewelry, afghans, baskets, outerwear, candles, and much more. Each vendor’s entrance fee will be donated to the Carleton College Custodial Scholarship Fund. This popular annual event is free and open to the public.
Fred Hagstrom, Rae Schupack Nathan Professor of Art, was invited as a part of a panel at a colloquium entitled “Themes in Scholarship & Book Arts: Law and Social Justice from Antiquity to Modern Times” at the University of Washington on November 21. The panel talked about how art and scholarship explore the ways that the protection of law has been extended to or withheld from different populations from antiquity through contemporary times. This roundtable discussion was held in connection with an exhibit entitled "Under the Wings of Artemis" at the Suzzallo Library of the University of Washington.
St. Olaf hosted the NCAA Division-III Central Region Cross Country Championships on Nov. 16. With the home advantage, the St. Olaf men’s team was victorious for the second year in a row, placing first out of 26 teams. Central College men’s team put up a strong fight, finishing second overall, just ten points behind St. Olaf. Meanwhile, the St. Olaf women celebrated third place. After the women received an at-large bid, both the men and women qualified for the national meet.
Grant Wintheiser ’15 finished the men’s 8K race second overall in 24:39. Jake Brown ’15 followed close behind, placing third overall and crossing the finish line at 24:47. With this time, Brown ranks fourth in the all-time St. Olaf 8K record book. Wintheiser still holds the second place spot. Brian Saksa ’14 placed sixth overall with 25:06, earning him the tenth spot in the Oles’ all-time 8K record book.
Jake Campbell ’15 finished 18th with 25:36 followed by Calvin Lehn ’14 with 25:38. Dillon Davis ’14 and Phillip Meyer ’15 trailed close behind, placing all seven St. Olaf runners in the top 25 of the race.
“Being the seventh runner, I could see the string of St. Olaf guys in front of me,” Meyer said. “I just thought, ‘We are crushing it right now.’”
The St. Olaf women placed third behind Carleton College and Wartburg College. Noelle Olson ’17 finished second overall with 21:30, earning her the third-place spot in the St. Olaf 6K record book. Jorden Johnson ’15 finished fourth with 22:05. St. Olaf was the only team to place two runners in the top five of the meet.
“I really wanted to have a great race by going out there and feeling strong doing the thing that I love,” Olson said. “I think that I accomplished that goal, but only with the help and encouragement of my whole team and coaches.”
Michaela Banz ’15 finished third for the St. Olaf women and 27th overall with 23:21, followed by Allison Trezona ’17 with 23:43 and Grace Wilson ‘17 with 23:54.
The St. Olaf runners attribute their success in part to the home advantage they had by being able to race on the Ole natural lands.
“It’s really cool to be able to run on the same paths that we train on,” Saksa said. “Experiencing pain on the workouts helps you experience pain in the race. It helps to break the barrier.”
The teams also rely on camaraderie to help them through each race.
“Personally, when I’m in pain in the last mile, the only thing that pushes me is knowing that I’m running for my team,” Brown said. “I just keep telling myself, you’re doing this for the Oles.”
Both teams will compete for national titles next week at the NCAA Division-III Championships in Hanover, Ind. With encouraging results from the regional meet, the St. Olaf men and women look expectantly toward the race to come.
“I’m really pumped for nationals,” Brown said. “Something that’s always been in the back of our heads is to give it our best shot and try to win the national championship. We’ve trained hard, and we’re ready for a big finale to the season.”
As part of an initiative to bring dance out of the performance space and into the community, student participants in the Rhythm Project have spent the past week dancing informally across campus. The Rhythm Project has been popping up where Oles may least expect it: in the Cage, at Chapel and even in the elevators. These random acts of movement will culminate with a performance in Dittmann Center’s Studio One on Friday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
“Rhythm Project is an initiative to bring dance to St. Olaf students,” Rebecca Bowman Saunders ’16 said. Bowman Saunders is a member of the Rhythm Project “core team,” a group of eight students tasked not only with performing different types of rhythmic dance but also with organizing the event.
Participation in the Rhythm Project isn’t limited to dance majors. Other groups on campus have been participating in the week’s events and will perform on Friday, including Veselica, a student-run dance company, the cast of “In the Heights” and the Zumba and Taiko Drumming clubs.
Dance events throughout the week have included tap dancing in Stav Hall and the elevators in Buntrock Commons and an informal Zumba class in Crossroads on Wednesday night.
“All these things shake up the social norms of what dance is and where it should take place,” Bowman Saunders said. “We bring the joy, fun, and expressiveness of dance and rhythmic beats to places where it usually isn’t in existence!”
Those involved in the Rhythm Project have encountered a fair number of strange looks, but that was to be expected.
“I hope that students get out of their heads a little bit more to find the freedom that comes from movement,” Bowman Saunders said. “It’s been really interesting to see that reaction, but I hope that…people will come to accept movement as an acceptable form of communication and expression.”
Madison Goering, another participant in the Rhythm Project, commented on other intended outcomes from the spontaneous nature of the performances.
“Rhythm Project wants to demonstrate that not every performance has to be super rehearsed or ‘perfect,’” she said.
This isn’t the first year that Rhythm Project has been held at St. Olaf, but this year marks several considerable changes to its format.
“[Rhythm Project] has never lasted a whole week before,” said Karina Culloton ’15, a dance major who is on the Rhythm Project promotional team. “It has never encompassed so many different campus groups before, it has never been located in so many different places around campus and it has never been combined with Gather, which is another dance department event that is focused on a community dance party.”
The event is headed by Assistant Professor of Dance Sheryl Saterstrom, who selects the Rhythm Project’s core team at auditions for Companydance, a student dance company, at the beginning of the year.
What does it mean to be perfect? Deep down, we all strive for perfection. But our obsession with perfectionism holds us back. A recent Huffington Post article honed in on the negative aspects of perfectionism, delving into the many consequences of striving for this ideal.
Every day, advertisements and media bombard us with images that alter our way of thinking. They shift our attention towards the perfection of celebrities, the flawless skin of models, the perfect auto-tuned voices of singers and the success of businessmen who run multi-million dollar corporations.
These themes of perfection infiltrate into homes and schools. Young children are told by their parents and teachers that they can be whoever they want to be. But they have to work hard, be the smartest, the strongest, the tallest, the cleverest or have the most money. They need perfection.
But is perfection worth it? Perfection even plays a large role in the lives of Oles around campus. What does the perfect Ole look like? Are they a double major with a concentration, all in unrelated fields of coursework? Are they involved in a sport, some musical ensemble or both? Should they be a member of at least four organizations, volunteer regularly and work a part-time job on the side? The perceived notion is that the perfect Ole will do all this while maintaining over a 3.5 G.P.A. Perfection.
Oles work hard because we are motivated to make the most of our education. In order to be successful and get a job after graduation, we need to stand out from others and show that we worked the hardest. In the business world, it’s all about who you know and how you use those connections. The Piper Center even has the Connections Program, designed to provide Oles with connections across the nation for after graduation.
The author of the article in the Huffington Post argues that perfection doesn’t make you perfect. Everyone should establish a line of how far is too far. What price are you willing to pay for success? Perfectionists are consumed by the fear of failure and often have distorted self-images. And the images the media portray do nothing to reduce those fears; they only reinforce them. Perfectionists can become hypercritical of others, comparing their actions to the standards of society. Sometimes it’s easier to tear down someone else for doing something wrong.
Many perfectionists pretend to be strong, even if they aren’t. They put up barriers against their friends and direct their attention towards other things, like classes or clubs. This unfortunately means that perfectionists are at higher risks of developing mental illnesses, such as an eating disorder or depression. The daily demands can slowly take their toll on anyone. Is this idea of perfection really worth risking your mental health?
This doesn’t mean to stop trying. But perfection is the unattainable ideal. There’s always something more to do, something that could be fixed. It’s a never-ending cyclical effect of failure and disappointment.
Instead, set aside perfection and stop competing with society. Life becomes less stressful. Without those high expectations, there’s less chance of being disappointed if something doesn’t work out. Try the hardest you can, and that’s enough.
The Dalai Lama preaches compassion and kindness towards one another. But perfection? The Dalai Lama explains: “By this vain striving for perfection in a world where everything is relative, they wander even farther away from inward peace and happiness of mind.” Perfection doesn’t bring you happiness.
As Oles, we should try our hardest but recognize our individual limits. Perfection is something that can never be reached. That’s why it’s perfect. In fact, the only thing perfectionists fight against is themselves.
Katie Haggstrom ’14 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Omaha, Neb. She majors in English.
On Friday, Nov. 8, a violent typhoon leveled the city of Tacloban in the Philippines. The death toll in Tacloban alone is estimated to be more than 10,000, and an estimated 480,000 citizens have been displaced after thousands of houses were demolished in the storm.
As the citizens of Tacloban began to negotiate life after the typhoon, other countries began to pitch in. The Huffington Post reports that the U.S. Embassy provided the city with $100,000 for “health, water and sanitation support” while Australia gave an initial $358,900 “in relief supplies.”
According to the New York Times, a U.N. “disaster assessment team” visited the city the day after the typhoon, and team leader Sebastian Rhodes Stampa called the destruction unlike anything he had seen since “the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami,” by which he meant the devastating Indonesian tsunami of 2004.
While the Philippine government continues to fly in military planes providing food, clothing and materials for shelters, and while other countries step up to the plate and help the ailing nation, the debate begins about what steps are most effective in the wake of natural disasters of this magnitude. What is the best way for students to make a difference during times of turmoil?
Is donating money the best option? In doing so, one can ensure that the local government will do with the funds what they feel is best for their people. Having intimate knowledge of the area makes them better equipped to deal with such a crisis and arguably gives them a better understanding of the situation than outside groups could have.
What about donating food or supplies necessary for rebuilding houses and other buildings decimated by the storm? In a time of need, it is most important for a people to have what they need in order to survive. While planning for the future by donating money is important, having extra supplies tomorrow rather than next week could save the lives of a family with no means of survival.
There is also the option of physically going to the city or country in need and helping in person with the rebuilding process. In order to best know what the displaced, injured and distraught people need, one has to witness it first hand and do whatever may be needed to help them get back on their feet. Volunteering with organizations like Habitat for Humanity is quite effective in terms of giving physical support of this nature.
As for what students can do, volunteering with nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, with church-affiliated groups or with other organizations represents a way to help that is both affordable and effective. While donating money to an organization like the Red Cross or Oxfam International may make a difference, students burdened with expensive tuition and student loans may find this option less feasible.
Volunteering one’s time to help people in need serves as a rewarding alternative that has the ability to make a huge difference in the life of a person displaced by a natural disaster.
After college, joining the Peace Corps is a great option for those who want to help make a difference in the lives of people like the citizens of Tacloban. While some support may be given through organizations focused on the physical process of rebuilding houses, people who have undergone the emotional trauma of living through a catastrophic event like a typhoon or tsunami may require more than just a roof over their heads. Organizations like the Peace Corps focus on working with the people in need and helping them permanently improve their lives rather than simply going in and cleaning up the mess.
Any way you go about it, volunteering in the event of a disaster has positive effects on everyone involved. The victims of the disaster then have the ability to get back on their feet, while the volunteers are rewarded with feelings of satisfaction and pride for their ability to help.
Nina Hagen ’15 (email@example.com) is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English with a women’s and gender studies concentration.
Surrounded by abstract expressionist paintings and a lit-up view of the Minneapolis skyline, St. Olaf students and alumni partook in the inaugural Ole Med event last Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Weisman Art Museum. Connecting 70 physician alumni and parents with 130 students, the event exposed current students to the vast opportunities for alumni connections and provided insight into life as an M.D.
Modeled after Ole Biz and Ole Law, the event featured ten “pop-up” speakers, all of whom practice within the broad spectrum of medical specialties.
One such alumnus, Dr. Daniel Grossman ’03, spoke of the intersection of medicine, business and global health. Initially an emergency medicine physician, Grossman also has a strong interest in business and global health. His advice to students interested in interdisciplinary medicine was, “Do both!” Grossman currently enacts this philosophy by working as a Senior Director of Global Health Innovation at Medtronic, Inc. and as an emergency medicine physician.
Lynn Anderson ’75, Jon Hallberg ’88 and a steering committee of 20 other M.D.s tied Ole Med together. The aim was to give students an opportunity to connect with Oles who have gone through medical school. Over hors d’oeuvres, students were able to seek advice on life as an M.D., learn about the specialties a career in medicine offers and even hear tales of gap years and medical mission work around the globe. Dr. Marc Tompkins ’99, an orthopedic surgeon, talked with students about his experiences with medical mission trips, surgery and a busy home life. He is married to a pediatrician and has two energetic daughters.
But the main focus of the event was on the students. Leading up to Ole Med, the Piper Center for Vocation and Career worked to prepare students with proper networking etiquette. Peer Advisors Anisha Chada ’15, Nick Hoverstad ’14 and Jane Meyer ’14 held specialized walk-in Ole Med prep hours to advise on networking “dos and don’ts,” professional attire and how to make the most of connecting with physician alumni. Additionally, the Piper Center provided personalized business cards for students, allowing them to exchange contact information with doctors and stay in touch long after the event ended.
Ultimately, the St. Olaf camaraderie was instrumental for Ole Med’s success. One attendee, Michael Burgdorf ’16, said that “there was a profound comfort in knowing that all of the medical professionals were at one point students at St. Olaf themselves. We, as current students, could approach them with a sense of commonality rather than just humbleness.”
Lark Meiners ’15 also particularly enjoyed the alumni interactions.
“The thing about Old Med that I found to be the most notable was that all of the alumni seemed so enthusiastic about talking with students. They were all excited about sharing their experiences…especially balancing a career in medicine with raising a family.”Other students found the full gamut of medical specialties to be particularly helpful.“I learned a lot about physician involvement in clinical trials and their collaboration with Ph.Ds to develop various drug treatments that are then administered at patient bedsides,” Drew Voigt ’14 said. Even more, Voigt said he benefited from the high physician turnout.
“I thought it was exceptional that I could talk to 12 different doctors and learn from their perspectives instead of shadowing just one,” he said.
While the event itself was short, the networking should continue, according to Lynn Anderson ’75. She said that part of the purpose of events such as Ole Med, Ole Biz and Ole Law is to keep students “longing for more.”
At the end of the night, students and alumni paid special thanks to Professor of Biology Ted Johnson, who will be retiring at the end of this year after a 36-year career as head of the Health Professions Committee and an instrumental resource, mentor and friend of pre-med students. Natalie Rigelman-Hedberg ’06, a pediatric chief resident at the University of Minnesota, served as the master of ceremonies for Johnson’s own white coat ceremony in thanks and honor for all the work he had done over the years.
“It was a joy to see very successful alumni interact with the current students in meaningful dialogue and for alumni to interact with their alumni peers,” Johnson said. He ended his ceremony with a note of thanks but added that he has not closed up shop yet.
“If friends are blessings,” he said, “then I’m very blessed. I’m still here, and my office door will still be open.”
With its success, Ole Med’s doors will certainly be open in future years as well. The next date is already set for Nov. 13, 2014. Branden Grimmett ’03, director of the Piper Center, spoke positively about the evening.
“By all accounts, Ole Med was an evening filled with positive energy,” Grimmett said. “Students returned to campus with more clarity about where a career in medicine can lead.
“Alumni and parents enjoyed the opportunity to begin forming mentoring relationships with current students,” Grimmett added. “As students continue their conversations with alumni and parents, these relationships will ultimately help them decide whether a career in medicine is the right path for them.”
Once again, St. Olaf has shown how wide its community stretches and proven that it will continue for years to come.
St. Olaf College Professor of Philosophy Gordon Marino, a nationally recognized sports journalist, recently reviewed Mike Tyson’s new memoir for the Wall Street Journal.
Calling the book, titled Undisputed Truth, “raw, powerful and disturbing — a head-spinning take on Mr. Tyson’s life that captures his peculiar, sometimes ranting voice,” Marino goes on to paint a realistic picture of Tyson’s story touching on both its triumphs and its pitfalls.
“Unlike other sports memoirists, he doesn’t pull punches, offering up slashing comments on people who were once close to him,” Marino writes.
“His narrative reminds us of just how far he has come from his rough beginnings, and, in a way, how close he remains to them. He had a punch like a thunderbolt from Zeus, but there have been a lot of big bangers in boxing; Mike Tyson’s came with a pulsating story line like few others.”
After walking the reader through Tyson’s telling of his life, Marino concludes that “to judge by the pain and implicit self-reproach in Undisputed Truth, the man [Tyson] lost to most often was himself.”
In addition to his teaching and writing, Marino serves as curator of the Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library and co-coaches the St. Olaf Boxing Club with Associate Professor of English Carlos Gallego.
Al Montero, Frank B. Kellogg Professor of Political Science, delivered a paper titled, "Why Developmentalism Persists in Democratic Brazil," at the launching conference of the new International Development Institute of King's College of London, November 7 and 8.
Cathy Manduca, Director of the Science Education Resource Center (SERC), and Carol Ormand, Science Education Associate at SERC, are co-authors on an article, "Structural geology practice and learning, from the perspective of cognitive science," published in the Journal of Structural Geology.
Justin London, Professor of Music, led a graduate student workshop on "What is Metric Well-Formedness?" at the annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory in Charlotte, North Carolina. Fifteen students from across the U.S. and Canada participated in the workshop, presenting posters and debating various aspects of musical meter. London also participated in a panel discussion on the history and future of Music Theory Online, of which he was a founding editor.
Paula Lackie, Academic Technologist, presented twice on different aspects of data support (with heavy emphasis on different aspects of our successful model here at Carleton) and led a discussion on career development for data professionals at the 2013 Biennial Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) Meeting at the University of Michigan. The discussions included a table talk on political/social research and promoting data services/sharing at small colleges and a presentation on data use on campus. The proceedings can be found here.
Sarah Jansen, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, recently published a paper titled "Plato's Phaedo as a Pedagogical Drama" in Ancient Philosophy (vol. 33, no. 2, 2013). Jansen's paper aims to "demonstrate how a proper understanding of the literary dimension of the Phaedo sheds light on the philosophical content of the dialogue" by answering questions such as "What is drama?," "What is Phaedo a drama about?," and "What is the function, if any, of the dramatic elements of the Phaedo?"
The students of Associate Professor of Asian Studies Karil Kucera’s Visual Culture of Modern China class were brought together this fall by a unique opportunity: to help curate the Flaten Art Museum’s newest exhibit, Mixed Messages: 20th Century Chinese Prints.
Drawing from a rich collection of prints donated to St. Olaf College by Associate Professor Emeritus of Chinese and Asian Studies Richard Bodman, the selected works illuminate China's evolution from Confucian philosophies to Communist ideologies through the present day.
Mixed Messages explores the multiple readings embedded in a single work by featuring informational placards in both Chinese and English, making it the first bilingual exhibit in Flaten. As curators, Kucera’s students worked to create a cohesive exhibit that showcases a complex historical moment for viewers of all backgrounds, emphasizing what is grasped and lost in translation by inviting visitors to experience each piece from multiple perspectives.
“Mixed Messages represents the best of what a college art museum can do in partnership with students and professors. It's thrilling to see our collection being used at the core of coursework,” says Flaten Art Museum Director Jane Becker Nelson '04. “As a curator, it's exciting to watch students research this rare collection and make collaborative choices for the exhibition.”
Getting students involved Bodman’s donation gave Kucera’s class, and Assistant Professor of Chinese and Asian Studies Ka Wong’s Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum (FLAC) component, the opportunity to combine their interests in art history and the Chinese language to share their expertise with a larger audience.
“This class is the perfect blend of my two areas of study at St. Olaf: art and Chinese,” explains Ida Sobotik ‘15. “I am also taking a Chinese language class and a printmaking class this semester, so Visual Culture of Modern China allows me to tie the two subjects together.”
Kucera and Wong’s students worked with everything from traditional Chinese New Year’s prints to Communist propaganda posters that provide visual evidence of China’s response to modernity. However, their classes quickly realized that appearances are deceiving.
“The art displayed does not represent the realities of China during the 20th century,” says Sobotik. “If you go into the gallery just to look at the art, it will seem like a very happy time period, as many of the people in the prints have smiling faces and are greeting each other. However, many of the prints in the show are ideals of that time that actually hide the extreme suffering many people endured.”
This disconnect between image and reality, and the Visual Culture class’s experiences curating the pieces, inspired the exhibit’s provocative name.
“I personally came up with the title 'Mixed Messages' when I was originally working with the students in the class and came to recognize that what those who couldn't read Chinese saw in the imagery of the prints was very different from those who could read Chinese,” says Kucera. “Hence, the notion of 'mixed messages,' where image does not necessarily reflect text.”
For Wong’s FLAC students, curation presented their language skills with unique obstacles.
“My language background definitely enhanced my understanding and appreciation for the pieces in the exhibition,” says Alisha Jihn ‘15. “As one of our assignments, we had to read excerpts from Mao's speeches, as well as translate the large character poster on display in the exhibition. The colloquial Chinese vocabulary and grammar we’ve learned can be quite different from written Chinese, so that was a definitely a challenge.”
Translating posters into art Early in the semester, Kucera’s students visited the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts with Becker Nelson to explore exhibition design — how curators craft the narrative flow of an art show, use wall color strategically, and create innovative educational opportunities to provide visitors with the richest possible experience.
To recreate the experience of how these prints were first experienced, the class carefully designed the exhibit space to resemble their natural setting. For example, they came up with the idea of using a magnetic system that leaves the prints exposed in a fashion comparable to how they would originally have been presented.
“The idea of presenting an exhibition of prints is intriguing because, back in the day, these posters were simply hung on walls — like posters we have hanging in our dorm rooms,” explains Jihn. “I think this, in itself, is a ‘mixed message’: there are many contradictions in so many of the pieces, starting with the fact they were originally just mass-produced posters, not art.”
Prints include a striking floor-length woodblock print of Mao Zedong and miniature figurines of prominent Chinese leaders. The students decided on painting select walls of the exhibit gray to mimic building walls and draw attention to the posters.
“One of my favorite pieces is titled ‘I Am Chairman Mao’s Little Red Soldier,’” says Jihn. “The slogan at the top of the print says ‘Study well and improve day by day’ — which I find ironic, yet fascinating since during the Cultural Revolution education was essentially abandoned.”
The exhibit features an interactive activity as well, inviting visitors to pair propaganda posters with their original captions. Despite the Chinese captions being translated, the images rarely correspond with what would appear to be the obvious choice; this, in effect, embodies the exhibit’s goal of creating an exhibit that can be interpreted from vastly different perspectives.
“My own hope is that the themes we presented in the show open up some new perspectives for people when thinking about China," Kucera says. "Hopefully they also make visitors aware of what incredible changes have occurred in China over the past 100 years and what those changes have meant for the Chinese people.”
Mixed Messages will be featured in the Flaten Art Museum until December 8.