There is definitely a right way to spell the word emblazed across a gallery wall in Newcastle – and that (see photo) is “definately” not it.
For a journalist, the exhibition A Small Hiccup strikes a chord.
No one likes to make a mistake but they do creep in, thanks to what is often known as sod’s law. I’m taking extra care with this article while knowing my efforts could prove fruitless.
A Small Hiccup is the work of Newcastle University graduate George Vasey, whose inspiration came from a surprising source – a Canadian zombie film called Pontypool.
“I believe in one poll it was voted the 19th best zombie movie of all time,” says George.
“It’s a film about a radio presenter and certain words are diseased, so when you speak them you become infected and turn into a zombie.
“I saw it as a nice metaphor for the way we use and misuse language.”
An ever-present threat of instant zombification would, I imagine, make you write or speak more carefully. Then again, sod’s law would undoubtedly mean zombies on every street.
George saw the film in London and enjoyed it, as did a reviewer who posted on the film website IMDb, calling Pontypool “superb” and “a zombie flick that isn’t a zombie flick”.
George says: “As a curator you have lots of ideas swimming around in your head, but I really liked this idea of diseased language. I got a group of artists I know quite well to respond to the idea.”
His idea found favour with Grand Union, a Birmingham-based arts organistion which supports artists and curators, and A Small Hiccup was born. It was shown first in Birmingham and runs at The Newbridge Project, an artist-run gallery on New Bridge Street, Newcastle, until August 30.
The huge “Definately” is the work of Jeremy Hutchison.
According to George, definitely is the most frequently misspelt word in the dictionary. “It is in Helvetica, which is the default typeface of capitalism, appearing on a lot of fashion shops and on the T shirts Katharine Hamnett designed in the 1980s,” he adds.
Hutchison, who works a bit in advertising to make ends meet, also highlights the drawbacks of online auction sites in a work called Spoliers. Thousands of articles listed for sale on such sites have minimal value because of typing errors, explains George. Hutchison picked on car spoilers, thousands of which are advertised due to “the massive trade in people primping their cars”.
No doubt those listed as spoilers eventually find a buyer. Those misspelt as “spoliers” presumably lie in limbo unless found by accident.
Originally George had planned to get some of the actual spoliers in the gallery but the photos, beneath their chirpily fruitless online headings, make the point just as effectively.
How much stuff, you wonder, is languishing just one misplaced letter away from a successful transaction? And how many people out to sell us stuff are hanging on our every word?
“It seems the notions of public space and freedom of speech have changed with social media,” says George.
“If you say something on Twitter, it’s liable to be data-mined by marketeers.”
Other contributors to the exhibition include Erica Scourti, whose work Unsent Letters was inspired by an app which translates from analogue to digital, and Charlie Woolley whose “canvas” was the gallery windows.
“There’s a secret artwork in the show by Charlie,” promises George. “You can access it but you have to find out how.” A Small Hiccup, accompanied by a newspaper with a coded text which requires a bit of sleuthing, is both thought-provoking and fun.
It indicates that George, who was born in Newcastle, grew up in Cornwall, and returned to the North East to do a fine art degree, might be one to watch.
Since graduating in 2007, he has worked for various galleries and established himself as a writer on art subjects.
He graduates this year at Goldsmiths’ College in London with a master’s degree in curating and has other exhibitions in the pipeline.