November 10, 2008

PowerPoint Counterpoint

Pecha Kuchas Rip Across The Screen At IML Event

By Cristy Lytal

For many people, PowerPoint has become the bane of their existence with long, often tedious, presentations causing their eyes to glaze over. But as students and faculty learned during a recent Institute for Multimedia Literacy [IML] event, rapid-fire pecha kucha slide shows can be eye-opening indeed.

Invented in Tokyo by architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, pecha kucha is a video art experience that consists of 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each, presented with narration by the artist.

“It’s like a mix of a poetry slam and a PowerPoint presentation, but in these group events, often in bars and clubs,” said IML Director of Academic Programs Holly Willis, who is also a research assistant professor at SCA. “And the word pecha kucha means ‘chit chat’ in Japanese. So it’s a nice mix of ideas and people getting together to talk in a more entertaining fashion, rather than a conference or something more formal.”

Professional artists and USC students tried their hands at this emerging art form on the lawn outside of the IML during the Visions & Voices event Pecha Kucha Nights, held on Friday, October 17, and the following Saturday. Though the shows took vastly different directions, each artist was prompted to address what they want to change about the world.

“The fun thing about all this is that you get to see how different people approach the same idea in completely different ways,” said Juan Devis, a multimedia artist and filmmaker who presented his own Star Wars themed pecha kucha and hosted the student competition. Professional artists Hasan Elahi, Karin Fong, Rebeca Mendez, and Mike Mills created a variety of unique projects, and one pecha kucha—created by Fiona Whitton and Sean Dockray, founders of the TELIC Arts Exchange gallery in Los Angeles—even incorporated puppetry.

The prompt also spurred a diversity of responses in the students. Sophomore Laurel Brewer, a communications major, used images as metaphors for the government. Sophomore engineering major and IML honors student Leander Kung narrated a history of the world in verse. Senior Russian major Tiffany Schallert focused on intolerance. Amanda Waddell, a theatre and East Asian languages and cultures major in her junior year, presented her utopian vision of a world where art and politics are no longer separate.

After the student presentations, audience members used their cell phones to vote by text message for their favorite pecha kuchas. Senior Andrea Penagos, an international relations major, won top prize—an Apple gift certificate—for her project on the impact of USC’s Master Plan on members of the surrounding community. “It’s something that’s being developed right now that’s really going to affect the people who live here,” she said.

Second place went to Bradley Phillips, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in economics, who presented a series of photographs bisected by lines that obscured what was really happening—animal cruelty, deforestation, violence, climate change. “The problems we face today are hidden out of the view of the common perspective,” he explained.

Following the student presentations, a formal Q&A session evolved into a more free-form conversation as members of the audience grabbed the microphone and spoke at length about what they personally responded to in each of the pecha kuchas.

“The fact that it’s actually opened up a discussion is just so provocative to me,” said Waddell. “I feel like a lot of people peg us as the ‘know nothing, slack around, and watch the YouTube and the TV’ generation. But this is just so great that we can actually have a really intelligent conversation about these issues. That in and of itself gives me a lot of hope.”