When Charles Firth wrote to the Queen asking her to donate a word to the Sydney Museum of Words, Buckingham Palace sent a polite apology saying it would be unfair because Her Majesty received so many requests for donations.
‘‘My wife said the Queen was the only person who picked it as a scam,’’ said Firth, who launches his satirical museum on Saturday with an exhibition at a Potts Point art gallery.
The writer, comedian and co-creator of The Chaser and The Roast is astonished at how many people are taking his latest baby seriously.
Printed words hung like artworks include ‘‘perseverance’’ from Gina Rinehart, ‘‘consent’’ from Julian Assange and Andrew Denton’s ‘‘nichodemia’’ – the pleasure of anticipating success before doing something. The museum emerged from the Sydney Writers’ Room, a non-profit work space in Sydney’s Trades Hall set up by Firth and friends that has so far housed 40 writers of books, films and television scripts. But it was losing money and Firth, who believes space is more useful to artists than cash, found no arts organisation would give a grant to pay rent.
‘‘So we thought, OK, how can we scam an arts grant by creating a program? A museum of words was the cheapest thing in the world.’’
To his surprise, the City of Sydney granted the museum $20,000 and $10,000 for marketing.
‘‘Now it has snowballed, so I don’t know if it’s a scam any more,’’ Firth said. ‘‘The original idea was to spend $150 on the museum and the rest on booze for the opening-night party.’’ Instead Firth and his team asked well-known people to ‘‘donate’’ words, which are printed with witty definitions and will hang at 29 Challis Avenue for two weeks, allowing viewers to consider their out-of-context strangeness.
‘‘Everyone wants to contribute a word, which they can’t use while it’s on loan. Most words are on loan because otherwise they could never use them again,’’ said Firth, who chose ‘‘love’’ after considering ‘‘the’’.
Admission is free but there is, of course, a gift shop selling a T-shirt printed with ‘‘sweatshop’’ and a mug bearing ‘‘mug’’ and the definition ‘‘the person who bought this’’.
Perhaps the City of Sydney did get the joke: banners around town advertise the show with an Aboriginal word from the local Eora people: ‘‘bininggaray (adj.) – something stupid’’.
WORDS ON LOAN:
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks activist – Consent
Gina Rinehart, richest Australian – Perseverance
Clover Moore, Lord Mayor – Sustainability
Dr Mehreen Faruqi, Greens MLC – Government
David Hunt, popular historian – Bininggaray
Charles Firth, museum director – Love
Ghassan Hage, academic – White
Judith Butler, feminist philosopher – Gender
Wayne Blair, writer/actor – Comedy
Paul Livingston, comedian (Flacco) – Magnate
Dan Ilic, filmmaker – Regret