A museum of authentic fakes

Photo courtesy of Prudhomme Library

Is truth really stranger than fiction? The upcoming exhibit at the Vancouver Public Library’s (VPL) central branch questions the role of the patron as well as the authenticity of artists.

Make Believe: The Secret Library of M. Prud’homme – A Rare Collection of Fakes is a mash-up of fiction and reality.

A true story with a spin

This new exhibit is more than a showcase of dusty old objects, but a menagerie of artistic voices from all over Canada. The exhibit, which will be making its way across Canada, has been funded through the Canada Council New Chapter Grant and bequeathed to curators Claire Battershill and Heather Jessup for Canada’s 150.

The frame narrative of the exhibit focuses around an actual historical figure named Bishop Henri Prud’homme (1882–1952), a well-traveled man originally from St. Boniface, Manitoba, who settled in Montreal. Everything else in the exhibit is a creative fiction mind-meld between Jessup and Battershill.

They state that he was left a basket of fake artifacts on his doorstep in the early 20th century and these objects are supposedly what are on display in A Rare Collection of Fakes. The intriguing artifacts like roman medical equipment and historical diaries all look legitimate…or so it seems.

Questioning reality

A pen and notebooks are among objects to be found at VPL’s Make Believe exhibition. | Photo courtesy of Prudhomme Library

When someone walks through [the exhibit] it is not clear at first what they are walking through,” says Jessup. “Are they really fake fakes?”

In reality, Jessup and Battershill commissioned artists from all around Canada to create this library of ‘fakes.’

“We gave a writing prompt and the Bishop Prud’homme backstory to writers across the country and asked what they thought would be in the Bishop’s collection,” says Battershill. “We received this marvellous writing back to us. Beautiful characters came to life through this writing.”

Canadian artists then created a tangible art piece that represented the vivid descriptions. The two curators hope the viewer will come away with more than just an appreciation for the hoax.

“[The exhibit] questions what it means to write about things that have actually happened in the past,” says Battershill. “There’s been a long history of writing fiction about the past, but once you dive into writing about historical things you often discover other events that actually happened. You encounter some confusion about whether it’s true or fake.”

A choir of voices

Battershill and Jessup want the public to be wary of accepting every curated history they have been taught throughout their life, especially in museums.

“I think [this collection] is about people examining how they view exhibits in general,” says Jessup. “And it’s important that when we do walk through a museum that we look at who is telling the story, whose story gets left out, why it gets left out and how could we do this storytelling together better.”

The art may not be truly historical, but the multicultural voices telling true stories leaves the viewer in the contemplative space between make-believe and reality.

“Every artist’s voice is speaking,” says Battershill. “Thinking of it as more of a chorus than an individual voice is important to us.”

This collection of fakes asks the viewer to be an active participant in the museum exhibit experience. Jessup and Battershill describe walking through A Rare Collection of Fakes as a sometimes uncomfortable experience, but they feel that one does not have to blindly walk through cultural institutions or any other aspect of life.

“If you walk into a museum and read a description of something off a panel, you take it as truth, regardless of what is actually on that panel sometimes,” says Battershill. “That’s not to say museums aren’t trustworthy, but there is more to say. It’s about approaching a cultural narrative with a bit more questioning. We want to think about Canada’s 150 and how we want to move forward as a different type of people living on this land.”

For more information, please visit: www.vpl.bibliocommons.com/events5ce727779db0a43a005eb0ca