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

Professor Bolton and Emeritus Professor at the Minneapolis Frenchy Lunning College of Art and Design in the discussion of Fashion, Subculture and Cosplay. (Photo courtesy of WCMA.)

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

Bolton began the event by explaining how his Repro Japan art exhibit details the influence of reproduction technologies on Japanese visual culture. “The show is particularly interested in comparing these different mediums to each other, to show the ways that different technologies take on the same issues and then reproduce and then remedy each other,” Bolton said.

Demonstrate the link between cosplay and the themes of japan reproductionBolton showed off an image of a cosplay costume from the exhibit that was inspired by a vinyl plastic figure, which was inspired by an anime, which itself was adapted from the Black Butler manga. “You can see that each of these mediums remedy the previous one, repeating it but also transforming it,” she said. “We quickly lose the notion of origin.”

Lunning then explained the complex origins of cosplay, defining the practice as “the dressing up and performance of a character from popular culture, regardless of place, time, or anything else.” She described how cosplay grew out of the WorldCon sci-fi convention, becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Cosplayers attend cosplay conventions dressed as various characters, most commonly from anime. “Millions around the world cosplay,” 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 girlish, girlish Victorian-era clothing. “If you dare to call [the Lolita] cosplayers, they go crazy on you,” Lunning said. “This is a lifestyle. They’re not emulating a character, they’re understanding femininity in a very different way.”

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

Bolton explained how the dress, whose skirt is made with a woodcut design that is repeated in other parts of japan reproduction, is placed inside the exhibition. “Part of the philosophy of the show was to put these very different media into a very complicated physical network with each other,” she said.

The gallery’s designer, drama teacher David Gürçay-Morris ’96, created gaps in the walls for new objects to be revealed as visitors move through the exhibition. “I think of it like the opening of a camera, where you can peep, frame or look,” Bolton said.

Bolton then connected the exhibit’s focus on performance with the performance work that cosplay photographers do. “There is no cosplay without a recording, without a remediation of the costume,” she said. Bolton explained the importance of posing for photos to the cosplay community. “It is a very accomplished social activity that is very satisfying for the people who practice it.”

Finally, Bolton discussed the parallels between contemporary cosplay fashion and other pieces in the exhibit, such as the woodblock prints. “There are a lot of streams that come together and separate as we track these different media, and especially the media’s interaction with each other,” she said.

Lunning ended the discussion by describing his admiration for the exhibit. “He’s a big, massive whirlwind of things, and yet you can pull strings from one to another,” he said. “They are constellations around the community, and the community is what holds everything together.”