Friday, February 20, 2009

Pecha Kucha Night

Last night I attended a Pecha Kucha; though I've been familiar with the form (20 slides, 20 seconds each, then on to next speaker), the first thing I learned by attending was that I've been mis-pronouncing the term, which has emphasis on the second syllable (same stress curve as the four syllables of "matryoshka doll"or [when choosing cookies] "Pick Chocolate Chip")

Pecha Kucha Nights have been held in more than 170 cities worldwide. This was the third such event presented in Detroit. The last one here was at the DIA, which doubtless is a better venue than last night's--the Hard Rock Cafe (in the Compuware Headquarters), where there were patrons at the bar holding loud conversations (doubtless annoyed at that person onstage with the microphone). Hard Rock, however, was well suited for the band that closed the evening

The presentations covered a wide range of topics, in an equally wide range of quality. Tafari Stevenson-Howard does some stunningly beautiful close work photography with flowers; Ryan Southen's photos are equally arresting images of urban architecture. Nevertheless, both used the Pecha Kucha medium poorly, structuring their comments about each slide with a simple statement of what it was depicting--"This is a Dahlia I bought at Detroit's Eastern Market" or "Comerica Bank asked me to shoot their new headquarters in Dallas"--rather than spending time on why this particular image deserved to be one of their 20 slides.

Two urban planner types showed what they've done plotting all kinds of data about Southwest Detroit into a Geographical Information System (from historical and cultural assets, to where a preponderance of parking lots remained in Corktown, to brownfields, to potentially viable grocery store locations). Unfortunately their slides of the GIS mappings were not sufficiently clear in their resolution to attract one's visual attention, so audience members lost interest quickly and began talking among themselves; this made it impossible to hear their verbally dense presentation.

Deborah Marlowe Kashdan presented a series of very cartoon-flat oil-on-canvas depictions of Beautiful People Out on the Town, the figures often recognizable celebrities. For each, she had a little two- or three-sentence story, often in the first-person voice of one of the characters, except each story was essentially the same glib self-aggrandizing/uncertainly ironic bit as the previous. Even at a brief 20 seconds/slide, her presentation quickly made me yearn for someone to put a staple in my head. But then her last four slides were full-size cut-out depictions of drag queens!! And then she was out of time|slides...

Small, nine-inch three-dimensional superhero figures made out of paper: I can say I've seen that now.

The presentation that most closely resembled what I'd expected to see was Michael Ford's way-out ideas about hip-hop architecture and design. His ideas were thematically coherent (e.g., his definition of hip-hop culture involves always repurposing some existing work) but his ideas were adventurous and provocative--from mobile audio-visual booths (like photobooths) that would allow rap battles between participants all over the world, to classic furniture designs incorporating designs and fabrics from hip-hop clothing fashion, to a multi-purpose living space that incorporated book shelves and skateboarding and walls for graffitti, those walls also incorporating a peg system on which a skateboard could be attached to become a study chair (I-kid-you-not).

The very cool folks at Detroit Synergy sponsored the event, and I did win one of their Hazen Pingree t-shirts (his is one of the seated statues at the head of Grand Circus Park)