UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Making space : new aesthetics in the Masterworks Gallery at the UBC Museum of Anthropology Balcombe, Erika


In the twenty-first century, museums are becoming increasingly interested in the immaterial—the affective and sensorial—qualities of exhibition spaces like sound, light, and movement. These expanding aesthetic qualities or ‘atmospheres’ offer new ways of communicating narratives, meaning, and value in the exhibition context. They can therefore be mobilized to honour Indigenous ways of presenting information, like storytelling, which also enriches audience experience. In effect, they have the potential to become atmospheres of reconciliation which foster new intercultural understanding, dialogue, and healing. This thesis aims to illuminate the relationship between space, objects, and people in museum exhibits and the processes that collaborative teams embark upon to curate and shape exhibition content, narratives, and the messages they communicate. I explore the system of staged arrangement of atmospheric components—light, colour, materiality, new media—in museum settings by considering the newly constructed Masterworks Gallery and its inaugural exhibit, In a Different Light: Reflecting on Northwest Coast Art, at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. The significance of MOA’s twofold project—the design of a new gallery and the development of its first exhibit—is its potential for communicating institutional philosophies, priorities, and future goals in concrete form. My research will contribute to the fields of museology and design studies by illuminating how space and the sensorial might come together to create atmospheres of reconciliation using technology and new media not only as a product but also as a process. It will show how making space for multiple perspectives, through culturally diverse ways of remembering, communicating, researching, and learning, works toward advancing a decolonized methodology by challenging outdated museum prescripts and developing a new curatorial model. By claiming authority and space within the museum, Indigenous storytellers reclaim their right to self-definition and demonstrate ownership and authority over their own material and intangible cultures. By recalibrating sensory inputs in exhibits, like touch and voice, museums are building new kinds of connections, fostering understanding, and ultimately promoting reconciliation with Indigenous people through these new forms of aesthetic action.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International