Representing settler colonialism in museums: May Chew, ‘Beckoning Bodies, Making Subjects: Interactive and Immersive Technologies in Canadian Museums, 1967-2014’, PhD Dissertation, Queeen’s University, 2015


Abstract: Focusing on the uses of interactive and immersive technologies in Canadian exhibits from 1967 to the present, this dissertation investigates how embodied rites of cultural citizenship summon subjects to interface with nation and heritage in supposedly postcolonial and multicultural frameworks. The technologies I examine encompass the diverse processes and materials that render abstract notions of nation, heritage and citizenship into tangible archives that we encounter directly through our bodies. The first chapter centres on Iris Häussler’s immersive installation, He Named Her Amber, staged in Toronto’s historic Grange manor in 2008. This work elucidates the processes through which settler colonial history is rebranded through neoliberal Creative City discourses, and the audience is affectively positioned as naturalized settler who, unlike displaced Indigenous communities, is endowed with the right to occupy the home. Following this, the National Gallery of Canada’s introduction of the audio guide for its monumental 1967 Centennial exhibit provides the historical context from which to investigate the celebration and consecration of Canada’s technological modernity. This chapter analyzes how the construction of an interactive art-historical audio-scape facilitated the citizen’s entrance into national modernity through technological access and participation. The next chapter surveys the implementation of digital touchscreens at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, arguing that the expanded haptic interface is drafted as both material and rhetorical apparatus to strategically proclaim inclusive, multicultural paradigms. Concurrently, this interface reveals the very limits of interaction, and the paradoxes of the liberal public sphere. Lastly, the dissertation turns to the visitor-generated projections at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Alberta) in order to illustrate how motion-sensored, phantasmagoric projections work to locate but also unsettle the visitor’s body within official national—and “universal”—heritage frameworks. Here, I demonstrate how cultural citizenship is secured through the substantiating buttresses of heritage and archaeology, which emplace the visitor within an “ancient” landscape and narratology of nation which depends on inscription as much as erasure. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that these technological overtures of nation facilitate the everyday, quotidian encounters with violence which seduce subjects into—and out of—narratives of belonging.

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