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Professor Bolton and Minneapolis College of Art and Design professor discuss visual culture and cosplay – The Williams Record

Professor Bolton and Professor Emeritus of Minneapolis College during a discussion on fashion, subculture and cosplay. (Photo courtesy of WCMA.)

Professor of Comparative and Japanese Literature Christopher Bolton and Professor Emeritus of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design Frenchy Lunning discussed the role of fandom and fashion in shaping culture and identity during a live lecture titled Fashion, subculture and cosplay February 10. Their discussion focused on pieces from an exhibition at the Williams College Museum of Art curated by Bolton, Repro Japan: Technologies for Popular visual culture.

Bolton opened the event by explaining how his art exhibition Repro Japan details the influence of reproductive technologies on Japanese visual culture. “The show is particularly interested in comparing these different media to each other, to show how different technologies pick up on the same themes and then replicate and then remediate,” Bolton said.

Demonstrate the connection between cosplay and the themes of Reproduction Japan, Bolton showed off a photo of a cosplay costume from the show based on an anime-inspired plastic vinyl figure, itself adapted from the Black Butler manga. “You can see each of these media remedying the one before it, repeating it but also transforming it,” he said. “We quickly lose the notion of origin.”

Lunning went on to explain the complex origin of cosplay, defining the practice as “the costume and performance of a character from popular culture, regardless of place, time or anything else”. She described how cosplay emerged from the WorldCon sci-fi convention, becoming a global phenomenon. Cosplayers attend cosplay conventions dressed as various characters, most often from anime. “Millions of cosplayers worldwide,” Lunning said.

Bolton and Lunning also discussed the difference between cosplay and subcultural fashion. They focused on “Lolita”, a Japanese subculture whose practitioners dress in childish and very feminine Victorian-era clothing. “If you dare to call [the Lolita] cosplayers, they mail you out,” Lunning said. ” It’s a lifestyle. They don’t imitate a character, they understand femininity in a very distinct way.

Bolton featured a photo of a Lolita dress from the exhibit, which combines a Victorian-style skirt with a kimono-like top and corset. “It’s also a punk reference,” Lunning said. “It’s a relationship between East and West that is ‘punk’.”

Bolton explained how the dress, whose skirt is made from a woodblock print pattern repeated elsewhere in Reproduction Japan, is placed in the exhibition. “Part of the ethos of the show was to put these very different media in a very complicated physical network with each other,” he said.

The gallery’s designer, theater teacher David Gürçay-Morris ’96, created voids in the walls so that new objects were revealed as visitors moved through the exhibition. “I think of it as a camera aperture, where you can spy, frame or peek,” Bolton said.

Bolton then connected the exhibit’s focus on interpretation to the interpretive work that cosplay photographers do. “There is no cosplay without recording, without costume remediation,” he said. Bolton explained the importance of posing for photographs to the cosplay community. “It’s a highly performed sociality that is very fulfilling for people who practice.”

Finally, Bolton discussed the parallels between contemporary cosplay fashion and other pieces in the exhibit, such as the woodcuts. “There are many streams that come together and separate as we trace these different media, and in particular the interaction of media with each other,” he said.

Lunning ended the discussion by describing his admiration for the exhibit. “It’s a huge whirlwind of things, and yet you can pull strings from one to the other,” she said. “They’re studded around community, and community is what holds it all together.”