The Brain Behind Japanese Mail Art

Ryosuke Cohen and his involvement in the global mail art movement

By Emily Zuber ‘23

Sometimes when conducting research, it is unknown what will be found or which items will pique interest the most. As I dug through the Claudia Cave papers within the Mark O. Hatfield Library Archives learning about the wide world of mail art, I found a variety of artists’ pieces; specifically, a collage of colorful stamps from a Japanese mail artist. After reading the papers about him, I wondered: who is Ryosuke Cohen, and how did he become one of the leading figures in the history of the mail art movement in Japan? How did Claudia Cave, an artist from the Pacific Northwest, obtain his art? What is this artist up to now, and how has other mail art influenced his current work? In further research, I discovered some answers to these questions along with a better understanding of how mail art is adapting within the age of the Internet.

Ryosuke Cohen was born in 1948 and became an art teacher in Osaka, Japan. His early work consisted of traditional Japanese imagery mixed with contemporary styles until he was introduced to Western mail art in 1980 by his friend Byron Black. This art intrigued Cohen, because, according to him at that time, “Japan is known only for the classics, like Kabuki, Noh plays, bonsai plants, Zen…People misunderstand that the exhibitions in the authorized gallery are the best works.” The mail art movement consists of materials like stamps, collages, paintings, postcards, intricately decorated envelopes, newspapers, etc. that can be sent to a plethora of other artists who may choose to keep it, send it to another, or add onto the piece and return it. In the archives, I found that Claudia Cave even had multiple eggs with a stamp on it, so it is assumed that this ‘art’ can be interpreted freely by all; this freedom is what enticed Cohen to create and continue creating a variety of mail artwork. 

To participate in international mail art, Cohen began Brain Cell in 1985, which he continues with today. He explains that the reason why he titled this project Brain Cell is because “the structure of a brain seen through the microscope, with thousands of neurons grouped together and stratified, really resembles a diagram of the mail art network.” Using Gocco, a unique printing process for Japanese greeting cards, he creates a collage of logos, stamps, stickers, drawings, etc. on A3 paper. Then, he mails the result along with a list of addresses and a typed article to around 60 artists and keeps additional copies that are put into books. Cohen is said to have made 3 issues every month, now totaling over 1,000 Brain Cell papers. Unique materials are sent to him to be used for each issue so no two pieces are alike; all are different and made due to the wide array of images provided by other artists. This is perhaps how Cave was able to have 2 of the Brain Cell collages in her international mail collection. The cells I located inside the archives contain a wide array of images, including an insect, ocean landscape, bigfoot, ocean sunfish, Big Ben, the statue of liberty, random Hirigana letters and so on. The multiple ‘C’s found on some cells are Cohen’s signature stamp. These Brain Cell mail art papers are a unique assortment of art created by many artists from around the world and it is amazing just how many pieces Cohen has been able to create with his community.

Ryosuke Cohen had found widespread success in gaining participation from international artists, but it seems that the wonders of mail art in Japan had yet to be widely recognized. There had been a few Japanese postal artists who published works in Gutai magazine, though the publication died out in 1972. Ryosuke Cohen joined the Artists’ Union or Artists Unidentified (AU) in the ‘80s. This organization had a couple of Japanese postal artists at the time, like On Kawara, who is known for his postcard and contemporary art. Eventually, Cohen was able to collect work for exhibits at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum, the Osaka Contemporary Art Center and the Kyoto City Museum. Though, it seems it would not be until later that he himself would travel outside of Japan.

Ryosuke Cohen ArtIn 2001, Cohen began his next art collection, The Fractal Portrait Project. With these works, he would travel to meet those who contributed to Brain Cell, including artists in the U.S., Italy, Korea, Holland, Belgium, England, and more. He would meet his correspondents and have them lay down on the Brain Cell papers where he would trace their silhouette in ink. Afterward, he draws a side-view portrait of their faces on smaller Brain Cell paper. Once finished, both pieces would be given to the artist. Cohen had to pause in 2010 due to cancer, but he continued the project until 2019. I found that since the pandemic began, he has been sending Brain Cell mail art. The latest piece is shown on his Facebook page as people tag him in posts thanking him for sending it to them. Unfortunately, he is unable to send any art to Ukraine at this time in 2022 due to the ongoing conflict with Russia.

It astonished me to learn about the vast amount of art Ryosuke Cohen has produced within the last 40 years in collaboration with tons of artists all over the world. From fellow artists in Osaka to Claudia Cave, these collages of art in Brain Cell and The Fractal Portrait Project continue to be created and seen by many. Even today, the Japanese mail artist states on his website that “Mail Art is far from finishing,” and that the multiple methods of correspondence in the digital age gives way to a diversity of participation within the mail art movement. This is especially true in a world currently facing a global pandemic where people seek connections with loved ones online. I am intrigued to see what Cohen & fellow mail artists will be creating in the future. It seems that we will see a larger increase in younger postal artists via the era of the Internet where reaching out to numerous contributors is extremely easy and I look forward to how it will evolve further.

Resources

Baroni, Vittore. The Neural Collages of Ryosuke Cohen. Artpool, https://artpool.hu/MailArt/chrono/1998/BrainCell.html.

Cohen, Ryosuke. Mail Art – Brain Cell – fractal (1997). Artpool, https://artpool.hu/MailArt/chrono/1998/BrainCell3.html.

Cohen, Ryosuke. Mail Art – Brain Cell – fractal (1999). Artpool, https://artpool.hu/MailArt/chrono/1998/BrainCell4.html.

Cohen, Ryosuke. Ryosuke Cohen Official Site. http://www.ryosukecohen.com/.

Held, John, Jr. Interview with Ryosuke Cohen from the National Art Center In Tokyo, Japan. SFAQ / NYAQ / LXAQ. 19 October 2012. https://www.sfaq.us/2012/10/interview-withryosuke-cohen-from-the-national-art-center-in-tokyo-japan/.

Held, John, Jr. Japanese Mail Art, 1956-2014. SFAQ / NYAQ / LXAQ. 8 September 2014. https://www.sfaq.us/2014/09/japanese-mail-art-1956-2014/#:~:text=Mail%20art%20remains%20a%20means,Association%2C%20continued%20with%20participation%20in.

International mail art, 1983-2016, Subseries A, Box: 3, Folder: 1. Claudia Cave papers, WUA118. Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.


The Girl and Her Goat: Dale Whitney’s Photojournalism in Korea

By Tess Manjarrez ‘24

South Korea, 1963. Kim In Soon, dressed in a polka-dot dress and recently diagnosed with Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, hugs a young goat. In an era of harsh isolation tactics, Hansen’s was a cruel and lonely disease to catch. While Hansen’s is not a cause of death, it often causes permanent disfigurement and disabilities, which were treated globally as a cause for ostracism. Korean sufferers of the disease were moved from their communities and isolated on Sorok Island, a ‘leper colony’ for those whom society wished to forget. However, children in the early stages of Hansen’s were allowed to stay home on the condition that they were being treated and also not in contact with other children. Six-year-old Kim In Soon was one of these children, as photographed by Lois Dale Whitney.

Whitney, a self-taught photographer and Salem resident, was born in Chicago in 1923 and spent much of her life working in Europe, immortalizing events such as the aftermath of Hungary’s revolution, or the World Health Organization’s outreach in Italy. Whitney’s work in Europe even reached the UN, through the lenses of photo series from Turkey and Germany. In 1963, she took her photojournalism to Wedong Nyun, a village in Southern Korea being visited by a WHO-sponsored mobile leprosy team, and there met the young Kim In Soon, who had just started her first year of school. In a series of photos which capture the playfulness of the young girl as well as the isolation brought on by Hansen’s disease, Whitney’s work deeply humanizes a population made invisible by policy and social stigma.

Isolated as she was from other children, many pieces of Whitney’s photographs from this series feature In Soon engaging alone in otherwise communal activities –– we see her sitting, eating, and playing alone, even as the discolored spots characteristic of Hansen’s begin to appear on her legs and ankles. Whitney was even able to capture the moment in which Dr. Youn Keun Cha informed In Soon’s parents of her diagnosis.

child and goat

Kim In Soon, isolated after her leprosy diagnosis, hugs a young goat.

A successful photographer with achievements in both media photography and international photojournalism, Whitney moved to Oregon in 1979, where she remained until her death from cancer in 2003. Her legacy is one rich with stories and kept alive by occasional displays in the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, The Portland Art Museum, Salem Public Library, and Salem Hospital, as well as on the World Health Organization’s own website. Many of her original photographs and associated typed or handwritten context are housed in Willamette University through the Pacific Northwest Artists Archives (PNAA).

While Whitney’s Korean series shows events such as WHO-backed doctors visiting villages or conducting treatments, the truly standout piece in this series is that of Kim In Soon with her goat. By Whitney’s own admittance, the black-and-white photograph is underexposed –– “A great shot”, she writes in her brief notes on the piece, found in the WU archives. “Photo was made inside a barn where we had taken shelter because of rain.” Perhaps the effect was mere happenstance, but its significance remains. The result of the underexposure is a totally black background, a stark contrast to In Soon’s bright dress and white goat. The goat itself seems to be smiling at the camera as In Soon cradles its head, a point of joy in an otherwise lonely future. Truly, with the dark background intent on swallowing them up, it seems in this photograph that Kim In Soon and her goat are alone in the world.

Such images beg the question: what, then, happened to Kim In Soon? Was she, like many victims of Hansen’s, sent to live on Sorok Island? Did she become permanently scarred, and ostracized as a result? Well, no. While Whitney did not add these details in her photograph description, the World Health Organization did indeed check in. Hansen’s disease is treatable, after all, as long as it is caught early. Kim In Soon needed only to continue taking her sulfone tablets regularly for more than a year. She recovered well and was able to continue her education, with the “arrested”, or inactive, lesions on her legs the only reminder of her illness.

child eating alone

Kim In Soon, eating alone.

The practice of sending those with Hansen’s disease to Sorok Island was officially abolished in 1963, the year Whitney met Kim In Soon, but of course, unofficial abandonment or isolation of ‘lepers’ continued. Indeed, it was not until 2007 that a bridge opened from Sorok Island to the mainland, finally connecting the historically isolated island and its residents to the rest of the country. Decades later, Lois Dale Whitney’s adventures, her notes, and the lives she captured on her 35mm negatives, remain immortalized and frozen in time — much like six-year-old Kim In Soon’s soft smile and the moment she shared with her young goat companion.

 

*Photograph 07 W.U., 1963, Subseries A, Box: 3, Folder: 7. Dale Whitney papers, WUA017. Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.


Coming Soon to a Library Near You

The University Libraries aspire to a number of goals as we develop services, collections, and library spaces.  These goals include ensuring that you have access to high quality information as easily and efficiently as possible.  Means of doing this include providing access to our catalog, online periodicals, and databases, or simply communicating when you have items waiting, and when we are open.  It also includes sharing news like this blog entry. There are many ways to accomplish our goals; our web presence and using email are among the most prevalent methods we use. Mobile Phone Interface

As smart phones and tablets have become more sophisticated and ubiquitous, we see that most individuals on campus own one or the other (or both).  A national trend shows that many users of these devices would prefer to use a downloaded App rather than view a website in a mobile browser to accomplish their transaction goals such as checking a bank balance or seeing if a requested book is ready to be picked up.  The individual Apps that many of us use for banking are a perfect example of this behavior.  While the University Libraries have long tried to make our websites accessible to smaller devices, we have decided to take the next step and roll out a Library App using Ex Libris’ Library Mobile service.

The App will be available on iOS and Android devices, and it will allow you to choose your home library (Law, PNCA or MOHL), access many of our resources and services including the catalog, find our hours, read our blog, sign up for notifications, allow us to inform you of your account status, and much more.  We anticipate going into beta testing in the next couple of weeks so watch for further announcements, download the App, try it out, and let us know what you think.  We look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions!


Cranberries, Voter Registration, Tsunamis and Ronald Reagan: Congressional Collections

By Susan Irwin, University Archivist

What connects cranberries, voter registration, tsunamis, and Ronald Reagan?  The Mark O. Hatfield congressional collection. Contained within the collection are legal, economic, social and scientific data on such wide ranging topics as health care, the environment, social security, immigration, agriculture, national defense, technology, and transportation. The labeling of cranberry juice products, proposed voter registration legislation, appropriations requests for a tsunami warning system, and the inauguration of Reagan as President of the United States (Hatfield served as chairman of the inaugurations committee) are a few examples of the disparate documentary evidence found in the Hatfield collection.

Mark Hatfield’s political career spanned five decades.  Growing up in Salem, Oregon he graduated from Willamette University in 1943.  After serving in the U. S. Navy during World War II, he completed a Master’s Degree in Political Science at Stanford University. Returning to Salem, he worked as an assistant professor and Dean of Students at Willamette.

congress seal

Seal of the United States Congress.

Hatfield launched his political career in 1950, at the age of twenty-eight, by winning a seat in the state legislature, serving first in the Oregon House of Representatives and then the Oregon Senate.

Mark Hatfield

Mark Hatfield, Governor of Oregon

He went on to serve as Secretary of State for two years, followed by two terms as Governor. In 1966, Hatfield successfully ran for the U. S. Senate, where he remained until 1997.

Hatfield donated his political papers to Willamette University.  The collection spans his entire career, but the majority of records relate to his time in Congress. Hatfield’s collection, similar to other twentieth century congressional collections, is roughly twelve hundred cubic feet in size. In 2020, Willamette University archivists began processing the congressional records portion of the collection, arranging, describing and housing the records for preservation and access. Processing started with the Legislative materials, which touch upon nearly every legislative issue that came before the Senate from 1967-1996.  Work is currently focused on the Media and Constituent Service sections, which document communications and interactions between Hatfield and his constituents through newspaper columns, speeches, press releases, photographs and correspondence.  Once completed, processing will proceed on the campaign, office administration and memorabilia sections.

archives boxes

Hatfield records to be processed.

Processing will result in the creation of a guide describing the scope and content of the collection along with a folder-level inventory.

The collections of individual senators and representatives, such as the Hatfield collection, are an important source of information on the nation’s and the region’s economic, social, and legal issues, and are rich in white papers, technical reports, and scientific data not easily found elsewhere. The collection, along with the guide, opens to researchers on July 12, 2022.

In the meantime, check out the exhibit of Hatfield memorabilia, located on the second floor of the Hatfield Library.

Processing of the collection funded through the Institute of Museum and Library Services Library Services and Technology Act grant, administered through the State Library of Oregon and by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission’s (NHPRC) Access to Historical Records grant.

For more information on the collection contact archives@willamette.edu.


Winter Snow

Winter is almost upon us. This year the winter solstice for the northern hemisphere, the astronomical first day of winter, occurs on December 21st. The solstice marks the moment when the hemisphere is tilted farthest away from the sun, and as a result, is the shortest day of the year. Will winter bring snow to campus or your hometown? Snowfall in Salem has fluctuated greatly over the years. Average annual snowfall for the city is 6 inches but large snow storms do happen. The 1937 storm dumped over 31 inches of snow on the city as did a storm in 1950. There has also been 10 (nonconsecutive) plus years with no annual snowfall recorded.

The Willamette University Archives houses thousands of photos of campus, many of which are available online through the Campus Photo Collection. A search through the collection reveals several images of a snowy winter on campus. Here are just a few:

Eaton Hall

Eaton Hall

Waller Hall

Waller Hall in snow, 1982

Smith Auditorium

Smith Auditorium in snow, 1992

Lee House

Two students walk past Lee House

Goudy Commons

Students walk in the snow next to Goudy, 2000

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you hope for? Whether it is to be outside enjoying winter sports or inside reading in front of a fire, best wishes for a fun holiday season!

Group of skiers.

Group of skiers.

Skier in snow.

Taking a break.

Skier on the snow.

Chilling on the snow.

Women reading by fireplace

Reading by the fireplace.


2021 MOHL Research Award

award tablet image

The Hatfield Library is pleased to announce the winners of the 2021 Mark O. Hatfield Research Award. This award is given for a student paper in any discipline that demonstrates outstanding research using library and information resources. The paper must have been written in the sophomore or junior year as part of regular class work. Up to two awards are given each year and winners receive $500. This year we received an abundance of wonderful papers from a variety of disciplines including anthropology, history, environmental science, religious studies, art history, biology, civic communication and media, and politics, policy, law and ethics.

The winners for 2021 are:

Lauren Burchinal for her paper “The Intersection of Sumerian Royal Inscriptions and City Laments” (Faculty sponsor–Mary Bachvarova)

Renae Wilkinson for her paper “Urban Forest Distribution in Austin, Texas” (Faculty sponsor–Joe Bowersox)

Congratulations to Lauren and Renae for their outstanding work! Also, many thanks to Joni Roberts, and the Hatfield Librarians for serving on the adjudication committee for the award.

Craig Milberg
University Librarian
Mark O. Hatfield Library
Willamette University


2019 MOHL Research Awards

award tablet imageThe Hatfield Library is pleased to announce the winners of the 2019 Mark O. Hatfield Research Award. This award is given for a student paper in any discipline that demonstrates outstanding research using library and information resources. The paper must have been written in the sophomore or junior year as part of regular class work. Up to two awards are given each year and winners receive $500. This year we received an abundance of wonderful papers from a variety of disciplines including anthropology, history, environmental science, religious studies, art history, biology, civic communication and media, and politics, policy, law and ethics.

The winners for 2019 are:

McKenna Aune–“Evaluation of the Dakota Access Pipeline Project” (Politics, Policy, Law and Ethics)

Niko Hellman–“A Construction of Dependency: White Supremacy and Anti-Miscegenation Laws” (History)

Congratulations to McKenna and Niko for their outstanding work! Also, many thanks to Gretchen Moon, Joni Roberts, and the Hatfield Librarians for serving on the adjudication committee for the award.

Craig Milberg
University Librarian
Mark O. Hatfield Library
Willamette University


The Call of Public Service

Mark O. Hatfield’s lengthy career of representing Oregon is the subject of the Oregon Historical Society’s traveling exhibit now on display in Hatfield Library, 2nd floor.  The Call of Public Service: The Life and Legacy of Mark O. Hatfield explores his career and highlights the issues Hatfield championed including healthcare, education, equal rights, the environment and world peace.  The exhibit is on display through November 15, 2021.

Hatfield graduated from Willamette University in 1943. After serving in the U. S. Navy during World War II, he completed a Master’s Degree in political science at Stanford University, then returned to Willamette University as an assistant professor and dean of students. Hatfield began his political career at the age of 28, when he was elected to the Oregon State House of Representatives in 1950. During his forty-six year career, he served as Oregon’s Secretary of State, Governor, and U.S. Senator.

Hatfield, pictured to the right in front of the Oregon State Capitol, donated his papers to Willamette University Archives. The collection includes materials from his time as Oregon Secretary of State and governor through retirement. The bulk of the collection relates to his time in the U. S. Senate documenting his legislative work, constituent services, communications and media, and campaign efforts. The large collection is currently being processed and will open to researchers on July 12, 2022. For more information on the collection, contact archives@willamette.edu.


Faculty Colloquium: Peter Harmer

Please join us on Thursday, February 25, at 4:10 p.m. at this URL:

https://willametteuniversity.zoom.us/j/96150671636

for our fourth Faculty Colloquium of the semester.

Title: Medicine as political camouflage in Islamic-Israeli sports confrontations: The Federation Internationale d’Escrime – A case study.

Presenter: Peter Harmer, Professor of Exercise and Health Science Peter Harmer

Abstract:  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and sports International Federations (IF) are predicated on inclusiveness and have non-discrimination regulations built into their constitutions and by-laws. However, three Islamic countries have used international sports competitions as extensions of their national policy of non-recognition of Israel by prohibiting their athletes from competing against those from Israel. Despite the clear contravention of the regulations of non-discrimination, these countries have effectively utilized exculpatory explanations, particularly medical conditions, to avoid sanctions. Using a basic epidemiological analytical technique, I have developed data from international fencing events that dismantles this defense and provides a foundation for the IOC and IF to hold these countries accountable for violating this important norm of sports competition.

Bill Kelm and Kathryn Nyman
Faculty Colloquium Coordinators


Faculty Colloquium: Vincent Pham

Please join us on Thursday, February 11, at 4:10 p.m. at this URL:

https://willametteuniversity.zoom.us/j/99097527632

for our third Faculty Colloquium of the semester.

Title: Community Rhetorics of COVID-19

Presenter: Vincent Pham,  Associate Professor, Department of Civic Communication and Media

Pham

 

Abstract:  The COVID-19 global pandemic has intermeshed itself in our daily lives, (re)shaping our relations with each other and with our institutions. Yet, in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,  a search for the origins of the disease is often conducted in order to understand the disease, from where it came, and how the first transmission to humans might have occurred. News coverage, political discourse, and science talk sought to manage uncertainty and allocate blame. While there have been other scapegoats for the origination of a given disease historically and globally, Asians and Asian Americans have become one of the most recognizable objects of blame and derision in United States rhetoric.  In this talk, I examine public discourse in news coverage that construct Asians and Asian Americans as “diseased” themselves and its replication of longstanding tropes about Asians and Asian Americans. I conclude with some future avenues of research related to COVID-19 and its impact on Asian American communities, particularly health workers.

Bill Kelm and Kathryn Nyman
Faculty Colloquium Coordinators