Art Alum's work influenced by travel to Japan

Abigail Rice stands beside her work being shown in exhibition.
Abigail Rice stands beside her work being shown in exhibition.

Art Alum's work influenced by travel to Japan

calendar icon09 May 2013    

Abigail Rice, a senior from Lincoln, Neb., came to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with the plan of majoring in engineering. After her first physics class, Rice discovered it wasn’t for her.

Rice is now part of the 2013 graduating class and received her bachelor of arts in studio art, with an emphasis on photography.

“I’ve always loved art, and I think it’s very important, not just to our culture, but I also think that’s how I think best and that’s through expressive media,” Rice said.

Rice was first introduced to photography in high school. She originally took it only because she needed an art credit to graduate.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Throughout college, Rice has worked with Professor Dana Fritz.

“Her counseling and mentoring has meant a lot to me,” Rice said. “It has taken me just beyond a typical, four-year education that a college can provide.”

Last summer, Fritz took a group of about 20 students, including Rice, to Japan.

“She was a delightful student to have on the trip to Japan because she gets along with people, she’s flexible and she’s curious; all those things that make world travel nice to do with somebody,” Fritz said.

Rice was given an undergraduate Hixson-Lied travel grant for this trip.

“It was a huge blessing,” Rice said. “I did feel very honored to receive that.”

Travel abroad changes perspectives

While in Japan, Rice learned to look at the world differently then she had before.

“One of the biggest things I got out of the trip was being able to remove my American lens and how I see and interpret images and try to see it through a completely different cultural perspective,” Rice said. “It was a month of awesomeness.”

Fritz said to study to in a completely different culture takes a lot of effort and one has to be excited and ready.

“Abigail is highly motivated, social and easy going,” she said. “I knew that she could benefit from it and I know that she could handle it.”

Rice said she was able to see and embrace the philosophy of “mono no aware,” meaning the idea of embracing the ephemeral and temporary.

"I saw a lot of that philosophy embraces in their architecture,” Rice said. “When we went to temples, a lot of their art work has a lot of temporary ephemeral things. You’d think ‘Why did you paint that? It’s just a passing image,’ but it’s something they really embrace.”

This philosophy became the theme of Rice’s photographs of the trip.

“It’s something very different then American culture, I think,” she said. “That’s why I latched on to that in particular.”

She was able to apply this when interacting with the overall culture of Japan when ordering food or asking directions.

“I think that confidence I gained from that was pretty sweet,” Rice said. “I had to slow down and stop and think about things very carefully before chasing things down and running after them.”

Embracing different cultural philosophies

Rice said she was also noticed people weren’t always in a hurry, which “I have never been good at practicing.” One instance in particular was during a tour of gardens. Rice said she noticed the gardeners were very meticulous in trimming trees and looked as though they were cutting them one needle at a time.

Photo of Abigail Rice working with tintypes in the darkroom
Abigail Rice works with tintypes.

“It was so meticulous, and I couldn’t understand how they were that patient with it,” Rice said. “But to stop and contemplate things is something they hold very dear to them.”

The work Rice found to describe her trip to Japan was a collage of two different photos. One was of a pagoda, and the other photo was a picture of a tree with its branches in a shape similar to the pagoda.

“The horizontal taking a vertical structure was something interesting I found,” Rice said. “It was that idea of taking time to stop, consider and build.”

Fritz said Rice’s work while in Japan was different than what she does in class. Fritz said it is hard and overwhelming to make art done in a familiar territory while in a culture one doesn’t know well.

“I think she probably just soaked it all up and took it in and it made her think a lot,” she said. “I think she really enjoyed the experience. She worked hard to make sure she had a variety of cultural experiences there. That was very good.”

Though she used a digital camera in Japan, Rice normally works with dark room photography.

“I really like the hands on process; being able to become more intimate with my materials and know them and understand them,” she said. “There is a lot more delicacy than just shoot the image and develop it. I really enjoy that a lot.”

Minor helps lead to photography project

This year, Rice focused on taking photos of women’s hair. She said her minor in psychology helped a lot with this project, particularly her psychology of personality class.

“It was helpful in how individuals develop a sense of self and I thought a lot about that when I was doing my hair and getting ready in the morning.”

Photo of Abigail Rice working in the dark room
Abigail Rice working in the darkroom.

Rice chose the subject of hair because she said she believes that’s a large part of how people want others to perceive them on a day-to-day basis.

“I don’t think that women should be hushed into putting it a certain way or encouraged to make it something it’s not and therefore make themselves something they are not,” she said. “I think hair is just a constant in our lives that is a constant reminder of identity that we should hold on to.”

Rice said her art history minor has also helped with this project in that she has been able to talk critically about her own work.

“Years from now, I definitely thing these photos will be able to speak to my generation, from the 2010s, and talk about the laid back attitude of Midwestern women,” Rice said.

When Rice’s photos of woman’s hair were on display in Richard’s Hall, she included tintypes, which is putting a photograph on a sheet of metal. Rice’s tintypes were of lockets of hair correlating with the photo they were with.

“It’s not only this form of identity but it’s a memory; a reminder of identity,” Rice said.

- Ally Phillips, College of Journalism and Mass Communications