In light of the era of fake news, Gregory Dreicer, the director of curatorial and engagement at the Museum of Vancouver, was inspired to address the issues of stories in and about history.
In his own words, “I don’t think Vancouver’s unique, but when you start digging down into all the stories you hear all the time, you find out how many of them really aren’t true, but are fabrications or exaggerations for one reason or another.”
The curators decided to dig down into the vaults of MOV to access items that have a part to play in these local and sometimes national stories, in an attempt to explore other perspectives on them. What they found makes up the content of their new exhibit, Unbelievable.
Four main inspirations drive the exhibit: the post-truth, alt-fact age, and the power of the web; Canada's 150th birthday, and the stories we tell about what and who Canada is; the fact that Vancouver Public Library’s most borrowed book from last year was Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (because people love facts); and Dreicer’s own specialization as a historian.
“I know I’m going to be attacked for whatever bias, but I think we did try to include a lot of different stories,” Dreicer said. And indeed they have. These stories range from dragon heads in Chinatown, to an infamous totem pole, to a piece of an earlier Granville bridge.
Dreicer had three main themes in mind when organizing the exhibit: portraying story versus story; that symbols and icons attempt to show unity, but unity is “never true;” and providing facts and highlighting institutions. He isn’t attempting to answer what is truth or fact, but rather wants us to see that the things we believe to be true often are not.
“We may not think of it as a story, but it really is,” said Dreicer. “It’s not about the facts, we fit the facts into our stories. So I think just understanding that can maybe help us be more tolerant of other people’s stories and not just think that our story or our view is the only one, but that there are multiples.”
There are five curators, whose backgrounds span various generations, genders and nationalities. Together, they worked to find the truth; if there was even one to find. They all want people to come out of the exhibit with the knowledge that it is through stories that we know what we think we know.
“Unfortunately, most people want a simple story, and that’s what they believe. But actually, the simple story is rarely accurate,” said Dreicer. “An object doesn’t tell a story, it’s just a lump of material. It is the presenter that tells the story.”
The exhibit uses tricks of perception to show — accurately — that all objects have multiple views. In fact, the emphasis is on story as community. A story either includes or excludes people and stories change, but also change us. By changing the context of the stories, or in this case objects, they are changing our perspectives.
Overall, the key point of the exhibit is to ask questions and the curatorial team has done what they can to answer some of them. But they leave it up to us to realize that perhaps the answers are unattainable, or maybe we don’t need answers at all. Needless to say, more questions are asked than answered and the exhibit does a good job of inspiring a drive to keep digging.