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This Is Not a Hoax

Unsettling Truth in Canadian Culture

By Heather Jessup
Subjects Ethnography, Art, Indigenous Studies, Literary Criticism, Canadian Literature
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Hardcover : 9781771123648, 227 pages, November 2019
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781771123655, 208 pages, November 2019

Table of contents

Introduction: Little Disrupters

Part One: A Novel in Three Dimensions

The Haptic Conceptual Artwork of Iris Häussler

Haptic Conceptual Art

The Museum Label’s Pact

Complicated Complicity: The Necessity of a Viewer

With Open Eyes: Revising the Historical Tour

Mistakenness and Disorientation: Responses to Iris Häussler’s Hoax

(Pissing?) On the Museum’s Authority

Part Two: Unsettling Images

Decolonizing Ethnographies in the Artworks of Brian Jungen, Jeff Wall, and Rebecca Belmore

Reverse Ethnography: Artistic Response to Colonialism and Classification

Dubious Origins: Paul Kane’s Nineteenth-Century Canadian Ethnographic Art

The Reverse Ethnography of Brian Jungen’s Sketches Solicited for Wall Drawings

The Near-Documentary Photography of Jeff Wall

Unsettling Acts of Remembrance: Rebecca Belmore’s Wild and Vigil

Part Three: Imagining the Author

The Heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa, Erín Moure, and David Solway

What Is a Heteronym?

Metaphoric Possibilities: Translating the As If of a Portuguese Shepherd

Collaborative Possibilities: The Interfering Theatrics of a Galacian Theatre Director

Critical Possibilities: A Greek Fisherman Suffering from the “Malady of Atwoodism”

Translational Possibilities: (Dis)comforts of the Mother Tongue

Conclusion: The Art of Stumbling


This Is Not a Hoax shows how the work of some contemporary artists and writers intentionally disrupts the curatorial and authorial practices of the country’s most respected cultural institutions: art galleries, museums, and book publishers. This first-ever study of contemporary Canadian hoaxes in visual art and literature asks why we trust authority in artistic works and how that trust is manifest.

This book claims that hoaxes, far from being merely lies meant to deceive or wound, may exert a positive influence. Through their insistent disobedience, they assist viewers and readers in re-examining unquestioned institutional trust, habituated cultural hierarchies, and the deeply inscribed racism and sexism of Canada’s settler-colonial history.

Through its attentive look at hoaxical works by Canadian artists Iris Häussler, Brian Jungen, and Rebecca Belmore, photographer Jeff Wall, and writers and translators David Solway and Erin Mouré, this book celebrates the surprising ways hoaxes call attention to human capacities for flexibility, adaptation, and resilience in a cultural moment when radical empathy and imagination is critically needed.


The art forger concentrates on what our culture expects to see. Heather Jessup, in illuminating the lie, tells us some important truths about our personal, national, and earthly prejudices. This is Not a Hoax is an essential read in an era of fake news.

- Michael Winter, Author of The Death of Donna Whalen and Minister Without Portfolio, winner of the Writers' Trust Notable Author Award

Heather Jessup asks us to look closely at how, and why, we believe what we do. Often funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and always highly readable, This Is Not A Hoax is essential reading for all of us right now - artists, writers, teachers, activists, citizens – who wrestle with making, or unmaking, the distinctions between fiction and non-fiction, truth and lies. Jessup’s smart, probing, entirely human study invites us to re-see and re-imagine our relationship to these categories, as well as to the hegemonic power structures implicit within every system of classification.

- Johanna Skibsrud, Author of The Sentimentalists, Winner of the Giller Prize

A parlour game? A sly wink-and-nod? A cruel but usually harmless trick perpetrated on the unwary? All of my previous associations with the hoax have been overturned by this elegantly argued, deeply thoughtful, and passionately political book. Drawing on an abundance of examples from visual arts and literature produced in Canada, Heather Jessup shows us how these seemingly momentary glitches in the fabric of our deeply held assumptions and conventions have the interruptive power to turn our reflections towards the searing disruptions of colonization, genocide, and institutionally sanctioned cruelty. This is a rare, creative work of cultural scholarship.

- Lorraine York, Senator William McMaster Chair, Canadian Literatures and Cultures, McMaster University

In this immensely readable book, Jessup makes the case for the necessity of disruption. This is Not a Hoax proves that our innate human gullibility can be a powerful tool for questioning the institutions and experiences that shape our lives.

- Mandy Len Catron, author of How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays