PREVIEW: Fri 5 June, 5 - 7pm
Benjamin Hirte ~ Learn Fast Never Forget

Join us for the preview of Benjamin Hirte's solo exhibition, Learn Fast Never Forget, this Friday 5 June, 5 - 7pm; the inaugural exhibition at Picnic Picnic, Sheffield.


Let’s compare two experiences. Here’s the first one: you come into a language class, and your (Hungarian) teacher writes the following on the board:

Kitchen cabinet – konyhaszekrény

She tells you that this is going to be on your vocab quiz next week, along with forty other words you don’t care much about.

Experience two: You and your most adventurous friend are sitting in a bar, somewhere in Scandinavia. The bartender is a grey-bearded Viking, who places three empty shot glasses in front of you in a line. From behind the counter, he pulls out a bottle labeled Moktor and pours a viscous, green liquid into the three glasses. He then grabs a jar and unscrews the lid. It’s full of something that looks and smells disturbingly like slimy, decaying baby fish, which he spoons into each shot glass. He then pulls out a silver cigarette lighter and lights the three shots on fire.

“This – Moktor,” he says, picking up one of the glasses. The locals in the bar turn towards you and your friend. “Moktor! Moktor! Moktor!” they all begin to shout, laughing, as the bartender blows out the flame on his shot glass and downs the drink. Your friend – your jackass friend – picks up his glass, screams “Moktor!” and does the same. The crowd goes wild, and you, after giving your friend a nasty look, pick up your glass and follow suit.

As a result of this experience, you are going to remember the word “Moktor” forever, and if you still remember the Hungarian word for kitchen cabinet, you’re likely going to forget it within a few minutes.

Let’s talk about why this happens. Your brain stores memories in the form of connections. Moktor has a (bitter, fishy) taste, which connects with its (rotting) smell. That taste and smell are connected to a set of images: the green bottle, the jar of rotting fish, the grey-bearded barkeep. All of that, in turn, is connected to a set of emotions: excitement, disgust, fear. And those emotions and images and tastes and smells are connected to the writing on that green bottle and the sound of that chanting crowd: Moktor.

Konyhaszekrény, in comparison, just doesn’t stand a chance. In English, “kitchen cabinet” may evoke all sorts of multi-sensory memories – over the course of your life, you’ve probably seen hundreds of cabinets, eaten wonderful foods in their presence, and assembled your own cabinets from IKEA – but konyhaszekrény has none of these things. You’re not thinking about IKEA’s weird metal bolts or bags of Doritos when you see konyhaszekrény; you’re just associating the sound of the Hungarian word (which you’re not even sure how to pronounce) with the sound of the English words ‘kitchen cabinet.’ With so few connections, you don’t have much to hold on to, and your memory for the Hungarian word will fade rapidly.

In order to learn a language and retain it, you’ll need to build Moktor-like connections into your words. The good news is (..), you can do this methodically and rapidly, and you don’t even need to travel to Scandinavia.


The exhibition runs from Friday 5 June until Sunday 5 July at 155 John Street, Sheffield, S2 4QX and will be open Saturdays and Sundays 12 - 3pm or by appointment.

  Benjamin Hirte, Picnic Picnic, Sheffield