I attended a Pecha-Kucha event last night.

Pronounced “pay-chak-cha”, this phrase is Japanese for “the sound of conversation” or “chit-chat” as some have said. It refers to a specific event-method for presenting art-design projects and ideas. Each artist is allowed to present 20 slides/images for only 20 seconds each, amounting to 6 minutes and 40 seconds of presentation per participant. This corrals the often tangential, wheel-spoke thinking of designers and “keeps the interest level up, and gives more people the chance to show“.

Started about seven years ago, Pecha-Kucha nights are a world-wide phenomena. I believe they now take place in about 200 cities globally (a number I heard last night, which is updated from the 100 cities their website boasts).

The event I went to last night was called, “Femmes Fatales” and was put on by the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design. There were 17 designers who presented – originally 18, but one fell ill. I arrived late, which was apparently okay since things didn’t get started until about 7:45 p.m., 45 minutes after the scheduled start. This was nice, since there was beer and wine (for a donation) and many people seemed to be chatty and glad to socialize after coming from their places of work.

I entered the long, narrow room of the new LA Forum Gallery, formerly managed by Woodbury University’s Architecture program. The space was filled with a bunch of Hollywood types (always wanted to say that) with thick-rimmed glasses, colorful A-line dresses, and either no make-up or too much. Everyone had a bottle of beer or a plastic half-cup of red wine. I scanned the dimly lit room to find some light coming from a small doorway at the very end of the hall. Sure enough, I found the man with the cooler and suggested donation cup.

Sam Adams in hand, I returned to the main space and waited. Soon a young man tapped the microphone and started a long diatribe in French. Evidently, he was introducing the event. By the reaction of those around me, this was unexpected. He finally ended and explained that since this event was called “Femmes Fatale” he figured most people attending would speak French. Ha, ha. It was a silly attempt at humor, but it still lent an air of (perceived) refinement to the event.

The pseudo-Frenchman introduced a young woman who introduced the concept of Pecha-Kucha. She played a video, which was apparently made for this event by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, originators of PK. Unfortunately, the audio was not working and so there was no sound. This made me strangely glad to be reminded that church worship services aren’t the only place where technical difficulties persist.

After the silent movie, the woman then introduced the design presentation as an opportunity to celebrate the vibrant and talented women designers of Los Angeles.

The first artist was German and she was presenting an urban design idea for the city of Jakarta in Indonesia. She said that each year 65% of the city is flooded causing damage and spreading disease. Her “Canopy-city” was essentially an extensive tent covering miles of land. It would serve as a secondary level for city dwellers, as well as a protection from the flood rains. Her presentation was dry and nervous and only marginally interesting.

The second presenter was Japanese, I think. She presented a number of extremely creative concepts including the “re-organization” of cities by dissecting paper maps and reassembling them in semi-origamic (a word?) fashion. She also created a performance piece in East L.A. on top of a building. A large sign with cut-out letters displaying the words “Good Afternoon” was placed on one building in such a way that when the sun hits it, a shadow is cast on the neighboring building’s blank white facade. This sign was constructed and situated in a such a way so as to only cast its shadow during afternoon hours. Her presentation was vivacious and funny and clearly communicated her giftedness in multiple design styles and general creative innovation.

The third artist of some undiscernable European descent presented a number of projects that in some way related to famous Femmes Fatale flicks, notably the ’80’s film “Body Heat” and numerous older films I don’t recall and haven’t seen. She attempted to be “edgy” I think by including the description of a large board meeting table design that involved not only “playful” elements (bright yellow colors), but also “erotic” elements (folded pieces of thin wood visible through glass that resembled a vagina). Her presentation was sarcastic with that “look at me, I’m a feminist” kind of feel.

At this time, there was a break. It was getting hot in the room and I was a little tired of standing and straining to hear so I decided to take a walk on Hollywood Boulevard. I had intended to return for the next 14 design presentations, but I decided I had experienced enough for my purposes.

My interest lies in Pecha-Kucha as an inspiration toward innovating another kind of art event. I would like to create a reproducible (read: “not too complicated”) event in which artists present their work in a controlled way. This simplicity is  foundational to Pecha-Kucha and makes it a potential model for my concept.

Of what I experienced, the following elements hold promise for inclusion in what I’d like to create:

1) It was a FREE event.

2) There was some sort of refreshment (in this case, adult beverages).

3) Time was alotted for socializing.

4) Each presentation was limited in scope and time, which limited loquaciousness on the part of the artists and boredom on the part of the audience.

5) There was a theme that tied the presentations together, though clearly each designer was given much latitude in how they connected their work with “Femmes Fatale”.

There are some things I would like to consider changing or adding, including the following:

1) A less enlongated space, which can hold more chairs with better viewing of the screen.

2) FREE beverages and some kind of food as well.

3) A more focused social time, perhaps coming after the presentations and guided by some sort of related set of questions.

4) Themes related to ethics, morality, and religion – though not explicitly Christian. I do not want to produce a church service.

5) More specifically, I’d like to explore themes that are dialectically opposed. For example, one event might be entitled “Fear and Security”, or perhaps “Hope and Despair”. Metaphorical themes might also be interesting, such as “Rain and Sunshine”, or “Spotless and Soiled”.

6) Lastly, I think it would be interesting to have each artist present the evolution of a particular work or works. Maybe the slides could present images of the art-making process while the artist describes his or her thoughts from brainstorming the project to completing the work, whatever the medium.

There is much more work to do in developing my concept, but attending this Pecha-Kucha event was a helpful first step toward innovation. Next stop, a Slideluck Potshow event.

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