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Pecha Kucha: Art in a Hurry

by Manuel Mendoza 24 Jun 2008 7:46 AM

“Epineaux” by Shawn Saumell (silver gelatin photohybrid) “Take your time,” organizer Dean Odle told the first artist at last week’s Pecha Kucha event in Frisco. “Talk about yourself a little bit.” Hey wait a minute. Or actually, don’t. We’re supposed to be on a tight schedule here. Pecha Kucha is a 5-year-old international phenomenon conceived […]


“Epineaux” by Shawn Saumell (silver gelatin photohybrid)

“Take your time,” organizer Dean Odle told the first artist at last week’s Pecha Kucha event in Frisco. “Talk about yourself a little bit.”

Hey wait a minute. Or actually, don’t. We’re supposed to be on a tight schedule here. Pecha Kucha is a 5-year-old international phenomenon conceived for the time-starved. Combining art and social networking, with a timer in play, the concept is named after the Japanese phrase for the sound of conversation.

Each artist shows 20 slides of work, each for 20 seconds, for a total of 6 minutes, 40 seconds, including running commentary if they like. Odle, a non-artist art appreciator, started the local PK group just a few months ago. Thursday’s event was the group’s second effort. The next one on July 12 is at the Bone in Deep Ellum.

Diana Moya, who presented her Pop-style renderings of the Frisco water tower, hosted the event at her gallery, the Frisco Arts Center. Moya volunteered her space after a friend brought her to Odle’s first gathering.

Odle said he found out about Pecha Kucha from a training video called Presentation Zen. He compared it to a live blog. “It’s my mountain to climb.”

“It’s more than just art,” said Chad Ireland of the Collin County Songwriters Association, promoting his organization with photos of members performing. “We’re celebrating a format.”

It turned out 6:40 can be a long stretch. Several of the 16 artists went silent as Odle projected their paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and video-art stills. Background music from DJ Curtis Parker, for some reason mostly from the’80s, filled in the soundscape.

“Oh, it’s [Thomas] Dolby – ‘Blinded by Science,’ ” Chris Elkins said as his paintings of pianos and sheet music, a sunglasses wearing dog and commercial portrait photography flew by.

For some, the 400 seconds were a blur. “Oh, we’re going very fast,” painter Jim VanKirk said after turning around and realizing his second slide was on the screen, and he was still talking about the first one.

“No, you’re going very slow,” shouted a woman in the audience of about 40. “I was never good at time,” VanKirk answered.

In the end, the format was just that: a way of organizing a multi-artist event without taking all night. If it had one flaw, it’s that there’s no time built in for Q&A.

But what made it a success, at least for me, were the two or three artists who given my preconceived notions I wouldn’t have expected to see there. Not that I had heard of them. It was just that the quality and depth of their work didn’t match my idea of a casual, off-the-wall sharing experience like Pecha Kucha. That probably makes me an elitist.

VanKirk was one who caught my eye. “I have one minute for every 10 years I’ve been artist,” he said, riffing on the mathematical focus. “And I’ll cover the last 30 tonight.”

It turned out he’s interested in “geometric programming.” The earliest work he showed often used small, crudely rendered rectangles to represent homes in abstract landscapes. Living in Spain and elsewhere, the native New Yorker moved on to painting plants in the 1980s and later diagrams as a tribute to illustrators he admired. When VanKirk said he was painting more realistic landscapes now, it reminded me of the Marsden Hartley show at the Amon Carter. Eventually, they all go back to landscapes.

The artists who put this event over the top for me, who stunned me, were Tia Petering and Shawn Saumell. Petering, a costume designer, wraps models in old bedding, bras and other fabrics, creates strange tableaux with a visceral feel and films them. I’ve already recommended her to the people putting on the video art festival at Conduit Gallery.

Saumell showed camera-less photos using light, paper and subjects that look hauntingly like X-rays, homemade pinhole-camera shots with multi-minute exposures, and photo collages influenced by Cubism. He’s also painting now and recently had a solo show at Texas Women’s University.

Maybe the format works because it taps into the OCD nature of artists. Julia Forsyth of McKinney, for instance, showed several colorful collages containing depictions of her and her husband on their wedding day. She’s now getting commissioned to do the same thing for other couples.

Laura Renee shared paintings she described as “abstract and Christian,” all of them with Scripture quotations written right on the canvas. In her presentation, she simply read the lines while each painting was projected.

The event ended with a few songs by a guy in a glittery gray shirt and white bucks calling himself Mr. Rock and Roll. “I knew I was getting big,” he said, “when I saw my name on the screen.” And he’s here all week, or so it seemed. Mr. R&R had no slides to show and went well over the time limit crooning “Blueberry Hill” and “Sweet Caroline.”

Despite the format or maybe because of it, anything can happen at Pecha Kucha.

  • This was the perfect description of this work-in-progress event…thanks Manny. My goal as the Curator for the CreativeSquat- A Pecha Kucha Event was simply to provide a open event using a fast-pace, exciting format like pecha kucha to give artists and designers one more opportunity to showcase their creative work. Its a growing and internationally recognized presentation format that was missing in the DFW area until now. For the most part, I think we accomplished this goal. At the same time, DJ Curtis Parker-My Partner in Crime, and I learned some very interesting lessons about organizing a PK event and hopefully people will attend the July 12th event at The Bone in Deep Ellum (7pm) to witness our new insights.

    We are still in the presenter selection process for the upcoming event. So, if you would like to share your work with a very cool audience of artists and non-artist appreciators like me, join our network at and send your request to present for event #3.

    • Hey Chris,
      Want to make sure you, or any other folks who took or displayed photos at the event, know about Art&Seek’s flickr group. You can find the link on the home page of We invite you to share your photos or video from Pecha Kucha, or any other creative event in North Texas.

  • This was my first event of such. I have done artist lectures, presentations, and workshops in the past. However, this is fast paced. The artist has less control over the presentation and everyone is riding the same wave of six minutes and forty seconds, divided into 20 consecutive seconds. This allows the artist to hit on his or her major key points, whether it be subject, process, or both. Afterwards, as interest remains in members of the audience, people are welcome to Q&A the artist in person, having a more involved discourse.

    I would recommend this to any artist who would like more exposure to their work, practice public speaking, see what other artists are doing, or to have a voice in his or her community.

    • Thanks to Dean for getting this together and to Diana for opening up the VAGF to the artists!

  • I started doing this as part of past promises to myself to better organize and promote my various skills in digital media arts. As a teacher of DMA, I am constantly creating – so much that it gets a bit hard for me to discriminate the good stuff from the bad. This is why I like the 20/20 format. If the audience likes a part – you will hear about it later. If something completely sucks – at least they don’t have to endure it for over 20 seconds! Aside from being committed to gathering up and preparing 20 pieces from my 36 years of experience in photography, art and media, I have been trying out some challenging photo techniques at the events as well. This last time, I took a strobe with a snoot on it and used aperture priority slow shutter speed with a rear curtain flash in order to simultaneously get the correct exposure on the projected image, and the artist presenting. Another challenge was to position the light so that it could illuminate the presenter without spilling light on the projection screen, nor flashing in the audiences eyes. You can see the results of these photos here if you like:


    I’m really good at all those technical sorts of things that nobody notices unless you screw up! However, what I truly desire is to become really good at developing a distinct style as I so admire in many of the artists whose work I have seen at these events. Presenting here helps me to do that. If the Curator Dean approves, I plan on something unique and fun for my next presentation at The Bone in Deep Ellum on July 12th. Please come join us!

  • I had a lot of fun doing the show – it was my 1st time presenting my artwork in public like that an dI really enjoyed it. It was also cool to be able to see other artists’ work and hear their own descriptions of it. I will definitely hope to be included in future events – I recommend it to anyone who is an artist, whether professionally or still in the closet – it’s a lot of fun and it really helps you get over your nerves of public speaking! Thanks Dean! 🙂 Blessings!