Current project
The Misunderstandings Project
Ongoing work

misunderstanding

Recently, in conversations with a range of people, I have found myself swapping personal accounts of
misunderstandings. We all have these, though it may take some time, and often a group conversation,
to help recall them. Some of these stories have been told many times. As anecdotes they become a
means of verbalising understandings and interpretations, as well as a process of laughing at the flaws,
pitfalls and general unreliability of communication. I am making a video collection of stories of
misunderstanding and will present them together as a rich repository of contemporary morality tales.

Misunderstandings can say a lot about the misunderstandee; sometimes they reveal assumptions,
prejudices or fears (a hitchhiker’s terror when the two foreign men in the front of the car pull onto the hard
shoulder and get out. It turns out they are to swapping drivers). At other times they point towards romantic
imaginings about the other (a woman passing an unknown man in a narrow place thinks he is bending
towards her to embrace her, so she responds by kissing him, to find that he has moved close because
a third person is trying to pass too). Our own experience does not always provide us with the means of
understanding what we see (a Brazilian person travelling in Switzerland and encountering allotments
for the first time, each with its garden shed, is amazed that they have favelas (Brazilian shanty towns)
in Europe).

There is much comedy in misunderstanding, and the teller often recounts in a humorous way, laughing
as they do so. The laughter can be directed towards themselves who may be revealing an act of
ignorance, naivety orstupidity. In these cases the telling of the story is often an act of great generosity
on the part of the narrator.

An interpreter’s error causes a patient to take dangerously high doses of medicine; a salesman uses
someone’s poor grasp of a language to register him for monthly instalments on a tombstone - a
deliberate utilisation of misunderstanding for financial gains. A girl who is being bullied at school finally
tells someone in her family but chooses her grandmother who is deaf. The grandmother listens quietly
and, when the story is over says ‘that’s nice dear’. We don’t know what the grandmother thought she
heard, but she (tragically) illustrates the need to forge meaning in incomprehensible situations - a
process that at times can evidence creativity and ingenuity
.

misunderstandings still

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

She wouldn't shake my hand
'...it obviously hadn't gone into this person's head that the people she'd spoken to on the phone
where black'


initial friendliness was based on an assumption

misunderstandings still


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrong footing
'I ended up living with her for two years'
Under the table, he touched the other woman by mistake