Pecha Kucha nights have become an underground global phenomenon. Kirstin Innes finds out what all the fuss is about
PowerPoint presentations are really not sexy. Ask anyone who’s ever sat through a wobbly series of badly-punned headlines, dodgy clip art and incomprehensible animated pie charts meant to ‘jazz up’ a sales report or sector growth analysis . . . see, I’ve lost you already, haven’t I? However, on Wednesday 5 December, around 150 Scottish musicians, artists and generally creative scenester types are going to congregate around a night-long PowerPoint slideshow held in Glasgow’s Arches, in the knowledge that they’re taking part in an über-cool international phenomenon.
Click: red nails digging into exposed fatty tissue on an operating table. Click: Wonderwoman. Click: the eye of a giant squid.
In 2003, Tokyo-based architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham came up with an idea for a social event to promote their new club space SuperDeluxe. They called it Pecha Kucha, which translates roughly from Japanese as ‘chit chat’. They’d get up to 14 people – mostly fellow architects and designers – to talk about their ideas and the things that inspired them aesthetically, in a relaxed setting, with drinks and music on hand. However, to avoid over-enthusiastic and underwhelming talkers droning on, each presenter would be constrained by a strict time limit and a fast-moving, remotely controlled PowerPoint slideshow already pre-programmed with their images.
Click: chintzy china dogs. Click: somebody’s granny, smiling.
In the intervening years, Pecha Kucha Night has morphed into something huge and globe-scaling, with nights now being run in over 80 cities; all of those hubs of music, design and creativity that people want to live in. Lisbon. San Francisco. Berlin. Madrid. Austin, Texas, New York, New York. It’s been running in Glasgow since 2006, and this is the fourth event. It attracts artists, designers, musicians. Often the presenters are part of the Creative Entrepreneurs Club (CEC), the Lighthouse-run organisation which sets up networking events and Scottish design conferences. There have been three Pecha Kucha nights in Glasgow and one at the Wee Red Bar in Edinburgh.
Click: A screaming punk at a gig in Berlin.
‘The speakers are picked to represent a cross section of the creative industries,’ says Lynsey Smith, who runs the CEC and Pecha Kucha, ‘so they pull a huge variety of audience members. When we started the club, we made a rule that people weren’t allowed to talk directly about their businesses or work, either. There’s nothing worse than being stuck listening to someone advertising themselves! I encourage people to share their ideas and inspirations, and also to keep to things that inspire them personally.’
This time around, presenters include a music video director who works with Antony & the Johnsons and Franz Ferdinand, a Bafta-winning documentary producer, a photographer with a reputation for uncompromising nudes and a man who makes music in his bedroom. It’s all compered by Fiona Milligan, who keeps Pecha Kucha running with wry humour and a healthy attitude to potential technological chaos.
Click: the 1970s Penguin paperback cover of John Updike’s Run Rabbit Run.
Each slide shows for 20 seconds exactly, and that’s all the time the presenter has to explain the image before they’re on to the next one. Twenty seconds each for 20 slides is six minutes 40 seconds exactly. After that, the slideshow pauses for five seconds while the compere introduces the next presenter, before segueing straight into their first image. It’s relentless; a breakneck burst of images, colour and bite-sized nuggets of information to suit the frayed attention span of the most easily distracted member of the MTV generation. It’s not a random barrage of words and pictures, though – the pre-programmed slideshow keeps the speakers to a tight, meticulously-structured format.
Click: examples showing why people dislike the font Helvetica.
‘My last presentation was really based on my rules for life,’ says former presenter Camille Logorio, who runs the Saltmarket-based shop for young designers, Che Camille. Logorio will also be presenting at the upcoming Pecha Kucha. She says, ‘I’d just read Jack Kerouac’s Rules of Spontaneous Prose, where he sets out this numbered philosophy – everything from “try to be a crazy dumb saint of the mind” to “never get drunk outside your own house”. Using that as a template, I built my presentation into this visual representation of all the aspects of my life, like a personal photo album. I like going freeform because the slideshow moves too fast: if you take along pre-prepared cue cards to talk from you end up just having to toss ‘em and wing it!’
Pecha Kucha presentations have the potential to be pretentious, certainly, and perhaps there’s something self-indulgent about the whole concept. However, as a visual representation or a pulse-check of what’s currently inspiring and motivating the people making some of the most exciting work in the country, and as a forum for those people to share ideas, it’s invaluable.
‘I think it’s taken off so successfully in Glasgow because of the sharp increase in the number of people working, studying or linked to the creative industries in the city,’ says Smith. ‘People who want to re-ignite their creative flair, draw inspiration, learn some new tricks, meet like-minded people or just generally be excited, come to Pecha Kucha.’
As the Pecha Kucha format doesn’t allow presenters to talk about their work, we gathered snapshots of the lives and inspirations of some of the people contributing to the upcoming event
Sarah Tierney, documentary producer, Clarity Productions
Tierney took an unconventional route into documentary production, through a marine biology degree and an Oscar-nominated short drama. Her films have screened at more than 100 international film festivals; since she set up the award-winning Clarity Productions, she has become a specialist in factual film with a strong focus on social, scientific and environmental content. Recent projects include award-winning independent documentary Flowers Don’t Grow Here, which exposes mass child homelessness in Eastern Europe, creative documentary series Losing Myself and Science Scams for Channel 4. ‘Losing Myself: Annie’ won Best Short Film at the 2007 Scottish Baftas.
Blair Young, video director, The Forest of Black
Film production company The Forest of Black (FoB) have been making hazy beautiful videos for the cream of Scotland’s musical talent for some time now, including Franz Ferdinand, Sons & Daughters and Belle & Sebastian. FoB’s live recordings for Idlewild and Antony & The Johnsons recall the great concert films of the 1970s.
‘We’re film purists to the point of poverty over profit,’ says Young. ‘I don’t often shoot things outwith super-8 and 16mm formats; I prefer to live in a bubble of flickering, shimmying images than the nasty video aesthetic.’
Mhairi McKenzie, graphic designer, Mucky Puddle
Mucky Puddle specialises in designing print and websites for small companies. McKenzie’s Pecha Kucha presentation will consist of ‘chit-chat about my first awareness of design, and some of the things that I’m excited about and inspired by today. At the moment, that includes road builders and electronic music festivals!’
Jannica Honey, photographer
Swedish-born Honey, above, is a commercial and fine art photographer who has lived and worked in Edinburgh since 1998. Her uncompromising, unflinching and often nude portraiture has been exhibited throughout the UK and Sweden, and her images feature regularly in a number of Scottish publications, including The List. She’s going to use the upcoming Pecha Kucha Night to highlight the difference between naked photography and porn.
Miso Funky, crafters
Miso Funky are a dynamic crafty duo based in Glasgow. Claire Brown and Jo Bartlett met at work and decided to alleviate the drudgery of the nine-to-five by designing and creating handmade accessories in their spare time. Along the way they’ve invented brand new crafting concepts such as the disco tie, and emo-broidery. Miso Funky products are always evolving but the staples are accessories, bags and purses, button jewellery and children’s clothing. ‘We get inspiration from loads of different places,’ says Brown. ‘We both love a rummage through a charity shop to find a piece for customisation, but it can often be something like a piece of new fabric, or even an old advert.’
Simon Harlow, interior designer
Along with Franz Ferdinand, Harlow is one of the co-founders of Glasgow’s art/rock warehouse The Chateau. He’s designed interiors for Cloud Cuckoo and Timorous Beasties, as well as sets for the band Foxface. ‘I’m hugely influenced by the time I spent in Japan, where the relationships between people and their environs has been honed to an intimate art form.’
Arches, Glasgow Wed 5 Dec, 6pm-late. See www.creativeentrepreneurs.com and www.pecha-kucha.org