Dr. Adam Broinowski: honorary lecturer, the School of Culture, History and Language, The Australian National University (ANU)
Meeting Dr. Broinowski at The Museum of Kyoto, he asks for a moment to complete the purchase of a memento in the small museum shop. Taking out his wallet he mutters a phrase with ease in Japanese and pays, before receiving a neatly packaged item in return, thanking the shop assistant, and making his way out again into the main foyer area. Not only is it clear he is a careful and considerate person, it is also evident that he is very familiar and at ease with being in Japan.
Between a small statue of Sei Shonagon, the author of The Pillow Book, and a large screen showing digital black and white slides of 1950s films, we find a padded bench to sit down, before moving on to speak about his participation in this year’s ANU-RU Visiting Researchers Program.
It quickly became evident that Dr. Broinowski conducts what might be described as non-linear research, describing his research topic: “Re-thinking Catastrophe and Extinction: Visual Politics in Nuclear Age Japan” as ‘a broad heading to capture several threads.’
Q) How did you hear about the exchange program?
I heard through a newsletter that was put out at ANU by the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, which I responded to. I had already been to Ritsumeikan Kinugasa Campus as a visiting fellow in 2013 for an Australian Research Council DECRA project when I was researching the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster and I was invited to participate in a conference that was about justice and reciprocity, convened by a group of scholars led by Ritsumeikan University’s Professor Paul Dumouchel, from the Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, who is my research partner this time.
Professor Dumouchel is a philosopher and anthropologist, who has worked on issues around justice and catastrophe and more recently on social robotics. While I’m here, he and another scholar, Ritsumeikan’s Dr. Andrea De Antoni, associate professor from the College of International Relations, are convening a workshop called ‘The Skills of Feeling with the World – Embodied Memories and Affective Imagination Skills’. As part of that workshop I’ll give a talk, based on previous research and my book, which is concerned with ‘Ankoku-butoh’ and ‘Gekidan-Kaitaisha’ - embodied memories and the body as an archive – in the Cold War and post-Cold War period in Japan.
Q) What does the Program enable you to do that otherwise you would find difficult?
The program enables me to carry out original research, to visit archives, and to participate with scholars at Ritsumeikan and elsewhere. It enables the exchange of ideas and papers, sharing of publications, and to meet and work with scholars I’ve met before. It also allows me to participate in the intellectual life of the university.
Q) What are you most looking forward to?
The dedicated time to research here in Japan (it’s different to having dedicated time to research in Australia); getting into the archives – that material which you can only access here; being able to share ideas and discussions with my colleagues here.
Q) Can you tell me a little more about the archives you can only access here?
There are a couple. A small group of artists that I’ll be visiting in Tokyo who have a personal archive; and the Yamagata Film Archives, some of which are not digitized.
Q) Moving on to the content of your research in terms of visiting archives in Tokyo and Yamagata (and archives in general) can you explain a little more about your approach?
I don’t have my focus fixed on one particular artifact – it’s more of a general approach. The artists in Tokyo are visual artists, as in ‘moku-hanga’ (woodblock printing) artists.
This work is going on a slightly different trajectory. It is about ‘embodied history’ and forming a wider lens on critical geo-politics - looking at the idea of catastrophe and extinction and how those can be linked together by exploring the sense of crisis. How are we understanding these conditions of crisis? How have these conditions been reflected in the particular works that I’m looking at? How do the representations of these conditions map on to or correspond with the geo-political conditions of the present?
It’s a similar approach to the one I took in my book, which is to really situate an oeuvre of artistic work.
If I’m looking at moku-hanga from a certain period, post 1945 for example, I approach them as aesthetic expressions of social, cultural and political conditions. I choose artists specifically for their consciousness, for their exploration and examination of those conditions, to then put them in dialogue with larger scale historical and political conditions. That’s the approach. And it’s the approach that I’ve taken in my previous work.
The representation of those themes is what I’ll be exploring in the archives.
Q) When you talk about ‘Catastrophe and Extinction’ what do you have in mind, because they are very general terms?
Hiroshima and Nagasaki mark the beginning of a new geo-political order, a geo-strategic order. Nuclear weapons changed the landscape of geo-strategy in the world. I’m talking also about a kind of techno-scientific order, where you have an apparatus that is established over time, after the more globalized distribution of (nuclear) technology, which shaped societies around the world - including Japan. And Japan was not only the epicenter as in ground zero, but it was, it is, central to US strategy in north east Asia and in east Asia.
My approach is more ground up though. I’ve done a lot more work on the lived experience of what that means: what it is to be exposed to an atomic blast; what the impacts of radiation are on the body; what it is to live with the memory of being exposed to that blast. So, what I’m doing is really a kind of people’s history, a social history of the post-1945 period from perspectives that have tended to be occluded in the more official histories that look at government policy and diplomatic and political histories and the exchanges between governments and government policies. My research is about the impacts of those policies and those international relations.
There is a strong element that is about a discursive narrative analysis and the negotiation of power - how individuals are, in their bodies, informed by institutions and institutional power: bio–power, bio-politics and sovereign power. I’m interested in how bodies are moved by these pressures, by these forces; but I’m also interested in how individuals negotiate that power and those forces with their own agency.
The criteria for me in selecting artistic works to examine is their engagement with these historical problems; and they generally tend to be of certain types or forms, so moku-hanga or shin-hanga (new-style woodblock printing that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century) is one form which engages with the social and political conditions the artists live in.
I tend to gravitate towards artists who are engaging with their socio-political conditions. So any artist who does that I’m interested in.
In his own words, Dr. Broinowski said: ‘There’ll be something that comes from the workshop, something that comes from visiting the archives which may be in the form of journal articles; and the material, the thinking which I generate from that research will then go into a book of some form – a monograph, perhaps.`
We look forward to the publications with anticipation.
On Ritsumeikan: Ritsumeikan University seems uniquely placed to forge good relations with students and academics in the East Asian and Asia-Pacific region through dialogue and encouraging multiple perspectives from the grass roots to international relations. Its new Global Liberal Arts College is a wonderful initiative that will be highly rewarding for all involved. It also has a museum of world peace which can specialize in developing multiple perspectives on peacebuilding, conflict resolution and reconciliation.
On Kyoto: Kyoto is a wonderful city as it is not too large, attracts a regular international population of tourists, professionals and dignitaries, and has a rich cultural heritage and contemporary arts scene. It also has a large non-government sector, with a strong awareness of human rights issues. It has a worthy reputation as a center for peace, spirituality and environmental values.