If you are not familiar with Pecha Kucha (pronounced peh-chak-cha and is Japanese for “chatter”), it originated in Tokyo, Japan 10 years ago, devised and shared by Klein Dytham architecture. It follows a 20x20 format which allows each of presenter to showcase 20 images – each shown for exactly 20 seconds. This gives the presenter 6 minutes and 40 seconds to present their latest creative project, idea or hobby.
I've not attended all of the Pecha Kucha Dubai sessions (and heard the standards have been slipping over the past couple of years), but out of ones I've been to, these are the ones I recall and remember as my favourites (there are more, but I can't list them all):
- Denie Pasion's presentation about the word Blow and Mahmoud Kaabour's and Denise Holloway's ode to Satwa called Satwa Stories at the third volume on 26th June 2008
- John Hollingsworth's photography of workers sleeping outdoors during their afternoon break and Omran Al Owais' Minaret project and his mission to bring the mosque into the 21st century at the fourth volume on 7th November 2008 (and if I had to list my number 1 favourite talk out of all the Pecha Kucha Dubai, I'd name Omran Al Owais' Minaret Project as my favourite)
- Evan Collison's presentation about skating in the region at the fifth volume on 28th May 2009
- Omar Jaramillo Traverso's presentation about Urban Sketchers; Hattie Bowering's presentation about the Monobloc Chair; a musical performance and presentation by Gayathri Krishnan and Reiner Erlings about Movement, a creative collaboration - all at the ninth edition on 19th January 2011
Yes, there are hits and misses in every Pecha Kucha night, but all of the above stood out for me because I saw good work, original ideas and none of it felt self promotional.
Pecha Kucha Dubai - Volume no. 13 took place on 23rd February at The Archive Dubai. I attended it with high expectations and left feeling very disappointed. I was wondering how involved were the organisers (Traffic, s*uce, The Third Line and The Pavilion Downtown Dubai) in putting together this edition and why such a poor edition compared to some very good ones in the early days of Pecha Kucha Dubai.
The night felt like a walking/talking advertorial. I was waiting to see the word 'sponsored by' come on the screen any time. The word 'inspiring' was thrown around a lot, but the whole event left me feeling anything but inspired.
Filmmaker Mahmoud Kaabour who presented Satwa Stories at the third Pecha Kucha Dubai said it best when he posted the following on his Facebook page (he was kind enough to give me permission to add his words here):
"Last night's Pecha Kucha was simply troubling. A couple of inspiring and quirky presentations on intellect and sustainable living, and then a lot of self-congratulatory oration by businesses.
The partners on PK might wanna look back at the glorious editions that featured photographers, architects, and fresh ideas that were new to Dubai before they cede this event to self-promotion. It felt like a commercial break on local TV many times."
A handful of presenters shared some new and creative ideas, but overall, the night felt quite commercialised and non of the presenters challenged the format of presenting. Most were just reading off a sheet of paper, (a big no-no when it comes to presenting and personally a pet peeve when it comes to presentations).
Described as a non-profit organisation that will travel around making Dubai its first stop on 18th March at DIFC, the Moving Museum and will bring us a 'groundbreaking show of international contemporary art'.
There's something very presumptous when organisations use the word 'museum' for something that is really not a museum. The Moving Museum is really just a pop up gallery and Aya Mousawi's presentation made it sound like it was doing the Dubai audience a favour by bringing us contemporary art via this 'moving museum' because there are no museums here.
After Dubai, the Moving Museum will go to Venice during the Venice Biennale and then to London for Frieze, so the tour just feels like it's latching itself on to big events for publicity and not out of the kindness of their hearts to educate us about contemporary art. I read an article a few weeks ago about the Moving Museum and I am slightly skeptical about it, but I hope to be proven wrong, so might report back later this month. But the Pecha Kucha Dubai presentation was just a pat on the back about how the Moving Museum is bring contemproary art to Dubai.
Also this was one of the images that was part of the presentation. I'm sorry, but I cannot take anyone seriously if they present this as art.
The Fridge and Music Culture by Shelley Frost
The program described the talk would ask us 'are we ready to challenge our perception of the performing arts'. I didn't get that from the presentation, instead, it felt like Shelley Frost, the director of The Fridge, was sharing with us a prepared mission statement about The Fridge and it's role in Dubai. I am a fan of The Fridge but was quite disappointed with this presentation.
Shelley Frost could have really played with the 20x20 format and have performers from The Fridge be part of the presentation to illustrate and challenge our perceptions of performance art. We've had musicians, singers and dancers performing using the 20x20 format in previous Pecha Kucha nights and it just makes things less predictable. Of all the presenters that night, Shelley Frost could've been the one with a very different and entertaining presentaton.
Jones the Grocer by James Wamae
This was the worst offender of the night. Jones the Grocer is a restaurant described as a high end deli and the presentation was basically a 101 marketing session. James Wamae started off by saying he read about Jones the Grocer in Singapore in Wallpaper magazine and he got in touch with the owner and asked if he can open one in Abu Duabi. He then went on talking about branding and customer experience and their expansion plans. How this presentation slipped into the Pecha Kuca Dubai line up is beyond me.
The Dinner Club 57 by Noor and Buthaina
Noor and Buthaina organise 'an underground supperclub' which isn't really that underground because it's been getting a lot of press coverage lately. It was interesting to see how they convert some unsual spots like construction sites, an empty swimming pool and an old school bus into beautifully decorated spaces to host their dinners. But they never really made it clear how they go about inviting people to these dinners. Noor and Buthaina also talked about a new restaurant/cafe they want to open in Abu Dhabi, so I suspect the Dinner Club is their way of advertising their upcoming restaurant in Abu Dhabi.
Wild Guanabana by Omar Samra and Marwa Fayed
Omar Samra started Wild Guanabana, a company that organises adventure holidays and he met his wife Marwa Fayed at one of the mountain climbing trips organised by his company. They both talked about inspiration, quitting their high paying day jobs, purusing their dreams and how to live a successful and fulfilled life. I respect and admire anyone that follows their dreams, but this presentation was a bit on the cheesy side and we could've settled for a few slides about it.
Two separate presenters that didn't have anything to sell were by artist Deniz Ulster's Metaphysics who gave us a "short peek into the history of metaphyiscs and different opinions on what the world is made out of"; and Majid Al Qassemi's Secret Life of Vets who gave us an insight into what it takes to become veterinarian. No products or company names were mentioned, they just talked about subjects they were passionate about. I personally didn't love the topics, but at least theirs felt like it fit the spirit of Pecha Kucha.
Permaculture by Gaina Dunsire
IngeniousED by Alison Schofield and Francesca McGeary
Alison and Francesoca are educational consultants who are trying to change the education system. They were the last presenters and by then I really did switch off, so I am not sure what changes they are proposing, but I remember seeing a slide on the screen that said they want to raise USD 1,000,000 in 30 days!
Pecha Kucha encourages everyone to submit, but there really should be a line drawn on what can/cannot be presented, and the responsibility lies in the selection process by the organisers. They need to tighten up the process, find people with new creative and fresh ideas, and more importantly, people that can present well. Not someone that says how nervous they are to present in front of the audience (as it happened with a few speakers during the night), if you don't like presenting, then don' apply for things like this).
The following is taken from Pecha Kucha's FAQ section:
What makes a good PechaKucha?Good PechaKucha presentations are the ones that uncover the unexpected -- unexpected talent, unexpected ideas. Some PechaKuchas tell great stories about a project or a trip.Some are incredibly personal, some are incredibly funny, but all are very different, and they turn each PechaKucha Night into “a box of chocolates.”
That's the spirit of Pecha Kucha and hope the Pecha Kucha Dubai organisers can bring back this spirit when they select speakers for the next edition.
Pecha Kucha Dubai has been going on for six years and anything that goes on for that long in this city is a feat on its own, so the quality needs improve over time and not the other way around.