The Art of Make Believe: A Panel on Make Believe: The Secret Library of M. Prud’homme – A Rare Collection of Fakes

1 juin 2021
Auteur(s) :
Valerie Leow, J.D. Candidate, University of Alberta 

Congress 2021 blog edition 

By Valerie Leow, J.D. Candidate, University of Alberta 

The Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) hosted the “Creative Writing Panel: Make Believe” open event, a roundtable discussion centered around Make Believe: The Secret Library of M. Prud’homme – A Rare Collection of Fakes. Made possible through a one-time Canada Council New Chapter Grant, this “special collection of fakes and forgeries” was co-curated by Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Dalhousie Heather Jessup and Assistant Professor cross-appointed in the Faculty of Information and the Department of English at the University of Toronto Claire Battershill. They were joined by the following four speakers: Sheryda Warrener, poet and lecturer in the School of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia; Lindsay Cuff, Assistant Professor of Teaching in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems jointly appointed with the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia; Debi Wong, mezzo-soprano and interdisciplinary performance artist; and Jillian Povarchook, Acting Curator at the Museum of Vancouver. 

Jessup opened the roundtable discussion by recognizing that “acknowledgement is the beginning of a lifelong relationship that requires open-heartedness” in her invocation of land acknowledgements, before she provided some context for her and Battershill’s project. Make Believe: The Secret Library of M. Prud’homme – A Rare Collection of Fakes was a national interdisciplinary arts project consisting of exhibitions, workshops, and events that incorporated Canadian history, archival research, creative writing, visual art, performance, museum display, and public outreach, boasting 32 participating artists and over 100 collaborators, including exhibition fabricators, librarians, archivists, research assistants, editors, and translators. It toured to libraries and archives in the cities of Halifax, Toronto, Saskatoon, and Vancouver in the spring and summer of 2019. 

According to Battershill, the title, Make Believe, is “sort of an imperative and also a descriptor in this project story.” Jessup and Battershill’s curatorial statement describes the purpose of their project as them wanting to “investigate the relationship between imaginative work and cultural institutions like libraries, museums, and galleries” and to invite participants to “think about the lies and omissions these institutions have at times offered us; about the relationship between fakery and fiction; and about how even the most seemingly trustworthy historical narratives are stories, and stories are by their nature wily, playful, and much more complicated than they at first appear.” Additionally, there exist many stories from history that are not publicly told in museums, galleries, books, and the like – perhaps because their authors and artists are not famous, because the voices of these authors and artists are not socially valued, because of systemic injustices, or because these authors and artists’ works are not able to be neatly classified into pre-existing categories. Thus, participants are encouraged to “question their distinctions between national myth and fiction, and to examine more deeply the role of the museum and the archive in the creation of Canada’s history.” 

The subsequent four speakers follow by talking about themes that arose for them out of their collaboration on this project. Warrener spoke on the concept of ‘collaboration’ itself, and how her understanding of it was at least partially informed by William Burroughs’s definition of it as “the fusion of two minds creat[ing] a third force or energy, a third mind” – the idea that collaboration created something new. 

Cuff described herself as “an outsider, a writer in a department of scientists teaching a non-STEM course within a STEM-curricular area.” She spoke on the function of metaphor in language as being an “error, an act in which the mind is guided towards a productive mistake” that “allows a new and perhaps deeper understanding about the thing we thought we knew.” The example she cited was the description of the moon as being made of Swiss cheese, which potentially allows us to see the moon differently. “We need to step outside of proving that we belong and have the courage to leap into the unknown,” says Cuff. 

Wong spoke on the theme of motherhood, stressing the importance of maintaining balanced dialogue, “honouring that dialogue between practice and parenthood,” in how she satisfied her own academic curiosity while also embracing her identity as a parent who “engages with every detail of the day to day.” 

Povarchook spoke on the increasing understanding of Canadian museums as “actors in the contest and processes of national memory-making through which settler-colonial relationships perpetuate dominant narratives of national identity.” She described museums as “existing within greater colonial hierarchical systems” and being “complicit in propagating the mythologized truth” of a nation by mainly including only “celebratory discourses of appeasement and redemption that gloss over existing violations against Indigenous peoples.” Instead, Povarchook argued that we need to give more voice to, and dedicate more museum exhibitions towards highlighting the continued violence against Indigenous peoples. 

If you would like to view the project yourself, the digital exhibition can be found through the following link: