Spotlight on Faculty: Assistant Professor of Media Studies Jane Chang Mi

This fall, three new tenure-track faculty members joined Scripps College. As part of our ongoing series on Scripps’ faculty, the Office of Marketing and Communications sat down with Assistant Professor of Media Studies Jane Chang Mi to discuss her upcoming exhibitions, computational media, and Indigenous futures.

Marketing and Communications: You have an MFA in design, but your other undergraduate and graduate degrees are all in engineering, including bachelor’s degrees in engineering and management engineering from Harvey Mudd College and Claremont McKenna College, respectively. What inspired you to pursue design and media studies?

Jane Chang Mi: My research focuses on the post-colonial: the United States’ militarization of the Pacific Ocean. After graduate school, the majority of my job prospects were military based. Naively, I thought my studies would focus on stewardship and care for the ocean and the land. Instead, most of my job prospects supported and/or reinforced the opposite.

MC: Tell us about a project that’s engaged with those in between spaces.

JCM: I was the inaugural artist-in-residence at the National Park Service’s World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, otherwise known as Pearl Harbor or Pu’uloa (long hill) in Hawaiian. I was researching the pre-contact history of Pearl Harbor for the 2015 Honolulu Biennial. Specifically, my project, “The Eyes of the Gods,” sought to highlight the fish ponds that had sustained all of Oahu, which, even then, had a population of one million people. Today, many of the ponds have been filled in and paved over, but some are still accessible, including the Queen’s pool, which is at the entrance of the three-pronged harbor.

While in residence, I was also invited to intern the ashes of survivors in the U.S.S. Arizona for the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I was the only civilian diver on the team.

Then, about six months after my work debuted at the biennial, the Hōkūle‘a, the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s canoe, sailed into Pearl Harbor for the first time, where it was greeted by the Navy. Although I was not directly involved with this visit, I am hopeful that my work indirectly contributed to this meeting.

MC: You’ve had exhibitions in the Bay Area, New York City, and Los Angeles. Tell us about those exhibitions and what your work examines.

JCM: lone some is a group exhibition that has been installed on various public sites across the Bay Area. My contribution, “_OF THE OCEAN,” is featured on bus transit shelters; it examines the five inhabited territories of the United States, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. I was also a contributing artist to this year’s Works on Water in New York City, which features water-based artwork in response to climate change and other ecological concerns.

My Los Angeles exhibition opened in early September 2020. Every Thursday and Friday evening, there was a socially distant, open-air screening of “ゴジラ /ɡɒdˈzɪlə/” [Godzilla] at Grand Plaza as part of Maiden LA 2020. The first ゴジラ [Godzilla] movie was released as a direct response to the 1954 fallout contamination of a Japanese fishing boat by a US thermonuclear test, as well as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “ゴジラ /ɡɒdˈzɪlə/” layers all 32 ゴジラ films, but with all the scenes involving monsters and humans removed.

MC: At a time when we’re all wondering what the future may hold, you’re teaching a Core III class titled “Futuring.” What will your students explore?

JCM: It’s a survey course centered on Indigenous futures, mainly focused on Hawaii, but also across the Pacific. We have a lot to learn from Indigenous communities. The apocalypse has happened [in the form of genocide and disease] and they’re still surviving, even leading the way as water and land protectors. For instance, smallpox was a devastating disease to Indigenous populations across the Americas. How can we learn from their resilience? How can we listen? How can we contribute? There’s a lot to learn from people who’ve been here a lot longer than any of us, and we should be humbled by that knowledge and start from a place of listening. Indigenous communities can bring us forward because they’ve had to imagine their futures. We should be studying our present and the future in the same way we’ve studied our history and the past. We don’t want to repeat our mistakes. When we begin to envision the future, and consider how to move forward, we can begin to find our way.

I lived in Hawaii for a decade, so much of what I have learned and my connections are from the islands. As our courses are remote this semester, I’m privileged to invite people from the Kānaka Maoli communities in Hawaii into my classroom. This is a small silver lining that would be difficult with on-campus instruction.

MC: What future classes are you hoping to teach at Scripps?

JCM: I’m going to teach a series of introductory and advanced computational media courses, which will include topics such as generative coding, 3D modelling, and augmented reality. I’m also interested in continuing my own research on the post-colonial. My goal is for students to utilize art and media in a contemporary discourse—to not just be in awe of the latest technologies but to think critically of the technologies and how we use them—which is the core of media studies. I’m delighted to create my own courses, and I love that Scripps students care about what I’m teaching and why I’m teaching it. It’s incredible that they have this kind of curiosity.

MC: Is there a fun fact about yourself that you’d like to share with the community?

JCM: I have been foraging seaweed and want to get better at spearfishing. Modern food production is compartmentalized and separates us from the experience of what it takes to obtain food. I think that everyone should have at least one experience of foraging, gathering, and preparing their own food from start to finish. It garners an appreciation for the process.

I’m so grateful to be here at Scripps, back at The Claremont Colleges.