Making Culture Lab internship

From March 2016 till June 2016 I worked as an Intern for Kate Hennessy at the Making Culture Lab (MCL). The Making Culture Lab is an interdisciplinary research group that is part of the School for Interactive Arts + Technology (SIAT) at the Simon Fraser University.  Their research focusses around the topic of digital documentation of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and the use of new media in cultural practices.

The “Sqewlets:

people of the river” project.


Through their involvement in a digital archiving project with the MCL, the Scowlitz First Nations community realised that the value of digitalisation is not only in preserving information on heritage objects and old practices. This community also wanted to show the link between heritage and their everyday lives. This is why they started their own website in 2013, supported by a grant of the Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC). In 2017 will go online.


To promote the site, Kate Hennessy and the Stolo Research and Resource Management Centre got rewarded with the Community engagement grant of the Simon Fraser University (SFU, 2015). The grant would be spent on two physical exhibition of the website: one at the Simon Fraser University campus and one at The Reach, gallery & museum in Abbotsford. Elements of the exhibition will also move to the Scowlitz Band Hall.  It was my responsibility to design and build the exhibition at the SFU Burnaby campus. All credits however go to the Sqewlets heritage and the website.

The pictures on this page try to illustrate the layout of the exhibition. The centre of attention is the touch screen that features the early version of the Sqewlets website.

Directly above it the logo of the website is featured. Two symmetrical sturgeons swimming towards eachother. Their spines are used to guide your eyes through the space and give direction.


Another visual element to direct visitors through the space is the color red. Red ocher is used by people who visit burial sites to reveal them to and separate them from spirits. The red frames reveal and present the community to the visitors of this exhibition.


One wall is dedicated to archaeological artefacts mixed with new objects. Pictures show the continuation of heritage practices. Here the translation of the website is at its core : Heritage is not just about the past but its about pride and continuation.

Master Thesis :

Building new perspectives on heritage by translating the digital to physical

The Sqewlets project and my experiences at the Making Culture Lab showed me the possibilities and opportunities of digital heritage for Indigenous communities. At the same time the assignment made me aware of the current discourses on heritage and digital heritage. I started to question how the definition of heritage related to my internship assignment (described above) to turn a virtual exhibition into physical elements. The polarisation of the digital and the physical world supports the perspective that objects are valued above all other heritage experience. From the perspective of my assignment this would create a situation where the original digital experience would be less valuable than the material/physical experience.


LauraJane Smith provided a theory that could match my situation better. She distanced herself from the thought that heritage is a thing, and defines heritage as an experience.

“ It is value and meaning that is the real subject of heritage preservation and management processes, and as such all heritage is ‘intangible’ ” (Smith, 2006, p.56)


This theory suggests that there is a more equal relation between states of physical or digital, as these states are no longer decisive to the value of heritage experiences. This would suggest that value and meaning of heritage could transcend materiality. This hypothesis could be further explored through the execution of my internship assignment so : a successful (fulfilling the criteria of an heritage experience) and effective (it has become material/tangible) translation from digital to physical would prove that value and meaning of heritage could transcend materiality. The research allowed me to answer the research question: How can the process of translating a virtual exhibition to physical elements provide evidence for the theory of LauraJane Smith; that heritage is an experience?


Materiality helps to make meaning as was brought forward by many other authors (Dudley, 2010). This case however proves that materiality can be changed to generate the same meaning. Focussing heritage management purely on materials and objects is thus not the only way to preserve heritage and secure meaning. This realisation makes meaning more central in the definition of heritage and it makes an experience transcend the value of objects. This new position of heritage experiences makes heritage intangible in nature and thus provides proof for the theory of LauraJane Smith.


This research conclusion is limited to the situation of this case. The translation was possible for the Sq’éwlets heritage but this isn’t enough to make it valid for all heritage. This research and this conclusion are an encouragement to look for more proof.


Looking beyond the research question,my thesis asked how the polarisation between physical and digital could be reduced through this project and through the theory of Smith. This research shows that physical and digital both carry meaning. Even more so it shows how the experience of heritage can be supported by a combination of physical and digital elements. This may be due to the social acceptance of digital interactions or to the improved mediation technology. Further research will be necessary to define this.


Please contact me to request access

to my entire thesis and research.

New logo for

the Making Culture Lab


I was asked to update the logo of the Making Culture Lab. On the top of this page the new logo is featured, on the right I present some of the process sketches.


Kate Hennessy requested a logo that would not just be a picture but something that would tell a story.

My story for this logo tells about the work of the Making Culture Lab. The L sets the bar/standard; the lab is a research organisation that is gathering academic knowledge. Culture transcends knowledge, so the C falls over the the bar. Making (culture) is however a growing process. It starts in different points, sometimes even before there is a research ground, and it is never fully finished. This is reflected in the M of the logo.


copyright by Charlotte Wassmer 2016