Creating Other Archives: An Interview with Sharon Hayashi, Mary Griggs Burke Chair in Asian Studies (2022-2023)

Olympic Stadium, Tokyo Japan
Olympic Stadium, Tokyo Japan

Sharon Hayashi is Associate Professor of Cinema & Media Arts at York University and the Mary Griggs Burke Chair in Asian Studies (2022-2023). This semester she is teaching a combined undergraduate/graduate seminar, Tokyo: Creative Media Practices, and presenting “Mapping Tokyo 3.0” at the AMES Colloquium on October 28. AMES Chair Travis Workman sat down with her to discuss her teaching and research projects.

AMES Chair Travis Workman: First of all, welcome to the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. We are very happy to have you here this year. You will be presenting “Mapping Tokyo 3.0” at the AMES Colloquium. Can you talk a little bit about the research methods that you employ in that project and also in the seminar you are teaching?

Sharon Hayashi: Thank you. I will just start by saying that the project developed out of a kind of personal interest. My mother was a translator at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and she had given me this pile of official PR materials about the Tokyo Olympics. I started looking at that material during the Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 and then 2020 Tokyo Olympics that ended up taking place in 2021. I was living near one of the Olympic parks in Tokyo. At the same time, I had been mapping a lot of street protests and a number of those people were involved in anti-Olympic protests. So, I started doing more “traditional” research in the archives about the various Tokyo Olympics, including the phantom 1940 Olympics, the 1964 Olympics, and then gauging what was happening with the 2021 Olympics. I felt it was a really iterative process of looking at archival materials and trying to find what was not in the archives in terms of protest and displacement. And then also walking around a lot to try to look for traces of the Olympics and the ways that communities had been displaced by the various Olympics. It became a project of thinking about an archive or archaeological map of these slices of time around the three Olympics. And the question became how to make that into an interface that would engage people. So much of what I found really interesting I think would have been kind of dry to just print up and write about, even though writing can be an incredibly creative practice. So, I started thinking about ways of creating archives that could bring in the images and sounds of the temporary protests, but also some of the oral histories that had been left out of previous histories of the Olympics. It was a process of thinking about place, power dynamics, and contested sites and developed into a project about three Olympic parks.

TW: That’s fascinating. What is the idea now in terms of going beyond the book model? What will the archive look like?

SH: I am creating a collaborative sensory archive that is trying to animate some of the research and material that I found, including ethnographies of some of these sites using a combination of mapping and 360-degree immersive VR.  I am also really interested in how to incorporate an augmented reality sound tour that allows you to walk through the spaces while listening to a layer of narratives or different voices and sounds. The form of the archive is a digital sensory archive that contains more of a multimodal spectrum of media, including writing, and that tries to convey some of the contested voices as well as some of the power dynamics of spaces. For example, I am interested in looking at displacement, labor, and ways that surveillance has changed, and then thinking about how to express that, sometimes visually and sometimes non-visually.

TW: This seems to deviate from what we normally think of as an archive in the discipline of history.

SH: I think the idea of what an archive is over the past decade has really been expanded to include community archives and local knowledge. I have been working with a lot of NGOs, artists, and activists and the knowledge they bring in is very much part of the archive and wouldn’t exist in a more traditional, state-run archive. But I also think the idea of what an archive is has been transformed by digital possibilities in terms of how we interface with audiences. This is a kind of experiment to see how we can bring some of the multimodal and sensory experiences (of, for example, displacement) to different kinds of audiences.

TW: Do you imagine it as an installation in a museum or gallery space or more of an online digital experience?

SH: Plans right now are for more of an online digital experience that you can access through your laptop, but I am also hoping to create a collaborative soundwalk in Tokyo this year that you can download on a device and listen to online or walking through the actual spaces.

TW: You did the soundmapping workshop with PhD candidate at Concordia University, Elina Lex. How did that go?

SH: It was really wonderful. I think part of my interest in sound is obviously in creating an object that people can listen to and engage with, like in the sensory archive and mapping project. But the other part of it is that it forces the maker to reconsider their relationship to place. I’m inspired by scholars in Indigenous studies and sound studies who are theorizing attentiveness and deep listening. That kind of relationship to the place, where you listen to it and really immerse yourself and think about the various layers of the place. Sometimes there is a more-than-human layer to the place. This is something that really inspires soundmapping. We are reworking the digital sound map for the "Tokyo: Creative Media Practices" course, so people will be able to take the sound walk if you download an app to your phone and have earphones.

TW: Is there a visual map to follow along with listening to the sound files?

SH: [Displays a map on her phone of the downtown Minneapolis Mississippi riverfront with a series of numbered locations at]. This is the visual map for the conference “walkshop” that the students and I are doing. The numbers represent the places on the map where the students have created sound files about particular places like the Owamni Restaurant, and have connected them to returning to the Dakota name for the area, the reclamation of land, and the re-envisioning of the relations to the river. Some are about stagnation and pollution—what happens when the river is channeled and dammed in inappropriate ways. We’re also listening to Mona Smith’s Cloudy Waters sound installation in the Mill City Museum that conveys a range of Dakota voices about the river. In thinking about Indigeneity and the river, we did not want to be extractive of Indigenous knowledge and continue to think about how we can support current movements. It’s been an interesting negotiation. We also look at some of the other riverfront sites—for example, the I-35W bridge collapse remembrance park and the relationship of what gets remembered and what doesn’t. There are no memorials for Wita Wanagi or Spirit island where Dakota used to go as a place for gatherings, ceremonies, and giving birth, an island that was destroyed, first by industry and then by the building of the dam and lock system. Part of this exercise is an excavation of thinking about the monolithic narratives of Minneapolis as a capitalist, extractive, industrial city, and the harnessing of water for that, and trying to imagine other possibilities of what the riverfront can be—not to return to pristine “natural” conditions but to imagine a more ecological kind of relationship to the river. The soundwalk is a way of thinking about the river and its history, but also its renewed possibilities. We’ve been in contact with groups that are centering Native voices in the reactivation of the riverfront. I really wanted students to think about their own engagement with the river and with water in Minneapolis, and then to think about these various negotiations through these contested sites, so that when we are talking about contested sites in Tokyo and spatial practices, and also creative media ethnographies of Tokyo, they have a much deeper investment and a much better understanding of their own politics.

The map that we have created with the sound that will play during the soundwalk is kind of like an extended land acknowledgment. I didn’t feel as a new visitor that I could create a land acknowledgment at the beginning of the class. This is a kind of collaborative way to think about the land and our relationship to it, the history of the land, and also what kind of social movements, particularly Indigenous social movements, are happening on the ground and how those can be supported.

TW: What are some of the things that the sonic dimension adds to that political consciousness?

SH: One of the very simple things is that a couple of weeks ago there was an Owamni Falling Water Festival. Indigenous musicians performed and filled the space with contemporary music. We recorded that and you can listen to that sonic occupation of the space. The whole lock and dam system is being reconsidered by a group called Friends of the Falls, which is working with the Native American Community Development Institute. There are ways of getting people to listen to sounds and to listen deeply to even what is absent, what is not there but ought to be there. One of the students is reimagining a different use of the space and then creating that through a soundscape. Creating what doesn’t exist but that ought to, through sound, in a way that is very suggestive and poetic, in a way that you would not necessarily be able to do actually in reality.

TW: Or perhaps through other media like photography?

SH: Well, I know that there have been projections of the disappeared Wita Wanagi Spirit Island onto the lock and dam, and those are also very compatible ways of transforming the space temporarily, to rethink what it could be. But in terms of bringing in the sounds of a healthy ecology, a layer of augmented reality sound can be particularly evocative. Sound is also a really easy way to get students comfortable with using technology, like a sound recorder. Many of them have a recording device on their phone, which is really good for narrating. Less so for capturing the sound of a waterfall or spatialized  360-degree sound. The ways in which I use technology tend to be very lo-fi. I like using equipment that is very commercially available or is very accessible, things you can teach people how to use in a one-hour workshop, to get people comfortable with using software and consumer-grade equipment. I am not particularly interested in the more virtuosic, intricate technologies that take a lot more troubleshooting and specialization. It’s more for the students to “think through making.” They have to figure out “what am I doing conceptually by what I am recording?” Or when they are translating their thinking process into a multimodal platform, it forces them to rethink those concepts and rethink those assumptions. And sound is a really useful, easy way to do that.

TW: That was another question I had, which was the relationship between technology and the humanities. A lot of humanities scholars are hesitant to engage too deeply with technology, because they imagine that it requires some level of expertise or that the point is the end product of the technological production rather than the kind thing you were talking about, which is the transformation of practices or concepts, things we deal with in the humanities.

SH: Specialization is less important than persistence. Because technology always fails, that is a given. But how you negotiate that and try to figure out workarounds is actually a really creative process that our students learn from and feel a sense of accomplishment about. I think in the States, there is a certain type of digital humanities—not all, because there are some really thoughtful and brilliant projects—but a lot of the ways in which digital humanities was rolled out in the States presupposes that you have a completely thought-out project and you just transfer it into a digital mode in order to make it accessible to an audience, and in order to make the humanities relevant again. That’s the kind of premise behind a lot of digital humanities funding and the way that classrooms were outfitted—it’s a whole kind of worldview. And I think in Canada, or at least in my department, and many schools in the UK, we are more fond of the term “research creation,” that is developing critical thinking through a creative practice. It is very process based. Some of the products can be quite beautiful, but it is really about thinking about research as an iterative process through the making, and the writing, and the researching all together, rather than just adding technology to the humanities equation.

TW: Or applying big data to literary studies…

SH: I am not particularly interested in using big data, but I think that data visualization can be really intriguing for things we can’t grasp that are beyond our sense of scale. There have been a number of projects around climate change and climate disasters that try to create an interface or an artistic expression that allows us to try to understand the magnitude of those. In that way, like any technology, they can be used thoughtfully and provocatively. It’s not really the technology, but the humanistic and social science forms of engagement and critical thinking that allow certain technology to be used for an interesting purpose. But I am more interested in how to convey intimacy in smaller spaces, and in things that get left out of larger Olympic boosterism and nationalist narratives. The project is about smaller spaces, rather than spectacle. So, necessarily, it is about things that are not in more traditional archives.

Share on: