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Culture 2 Go 

The art of PowerPoint

Pecha Kucha

Oct. 7 at Cameo Theatre

It's been said that every time someone makes a PowerPoint presentation, Edward Tufte kills a kitten. Still, Tufte, father of modern data visualization and author of The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within, might spare some lead for pecha kucha, a presentation-based performance art that is rapidly gaining steam in major cities, including Orlando, which just saw its first event Oct. 7 at the Cameo Theatre.

Pecha kucha (pronounced peh-CHAK-sha and means "chit chat" in Japanese) is a gathering of creative people who share a series of timed PowerPoints with one another, hoping to spark conversation and innovation. Presenters have 20 slides that display images for 20 seconds apiece, totaling 6 minutes and 40 seconds. At its best, this breakneck pace is transformative, morphing cliché corporate slide shows into a digital-age equivalent of a campfire story. But this description relies on the same flawed logic that feeds diet plans and get-rich-quick schemes: The method doesn't transform you, it's just a tool to be used and misused like any other.

Visiting the website, which hosts dozens of stellar presentations, obscures this fact. For someone preparing to present at an event, the website might create the impression that once you take the stage, the magic of the method will win the day. But the recent pecha kucha night was doomed by nearly its weight in kittens as several of the presenters battled the onstage realization that this is still, at its essence, public speaking. For these presenters, the slide show became a life raft to which they clung and sometimes dodged, as the pace proved too fast.

Eddie Selover, the first presenter and co-coordinator for the event, said "There is nothing longer than a bad PowerPoint," but he also espoused the merits of the presentation style. It's strange that the pecha kucha format solves the agony of watching a bad PP by restricting the length of all presentations regardless of quality.

The intoxicating ingredient in pecha kucha's brand of Kool-Aid is the re-imagining of the marketplace of ideas as a locavore-oriented farmers market. Pecha Kucha night promised presentations about electric cars, personal organization and the biracial experience with an Orlando angle. What we got were commercials. Many of the slide shows ended in at least implicit sales pitches ("Buy my book," "Buy this car," "Purchase my service"), which linked the marketplace of ideas to the marketplace of commodities.

Despite the unpolished performances and crass commercialism, I am eager to see what pecha kucha can become in Orlando. The community spirit and creative enthusiasm required to make something like this succeed obviously exists, and if it worked for Girl Talk and skateboarding then it could work for pecha kucha.

—J. Hunter Sizemore



Girls right out

The Sweet Wild

Through Nov. 5 at Twelve21 Gallery

1221-C N. Orange Ave.



The Twelve21 Gallery opened The Sweet Wild last Friday and trained its spotlight on three local emerging female artists: Carly Andrews, Jessica DeSalvo and Gianelle Gelpi. The part-time gallery/part-time graphic design business tucked above Tim's Wine Market on Ivanhoe Row was replete in girly colors and imagery, which at first appeared to address the "sweet" side of the exhibit's title. Upon closer study, however, the "wild" side of the artists' messages bled through for a sense of playfulness, sometimes wickedly so.

Andrews' drawings dominate adjacent walls on the far side of the narrow gallery; there's a consistency to her color scheme — black and white ink on red paper, and graphite on white paper — that lends unity and cohesion to her third-wave feminist work. In one of the red pieces, a shapely woman's nude form stands, scowling, her feet bound together and hands restrained behind her as she oozes blood from the eight arrows piercing her body. Nearby, a cartoon titled "Anatomy of a Total Babe," recalls the work of erotic cartoonist R. Crumb; the cross-hatched, unsexy nude cartoon of a woman is surrounded by balloons of text that connect to the body via identifiers such as "pout," "real boobs," "under wear as outer wear" and "swagger."

Jessica DeSalvo's hand-sewn quilt turns the table on the domestic genre. Storytelling is encoded in the patchwork pieces embroidered with entries from her journal — including the words "verbal abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse." The center of the quilt tells the bigger tale with the word "Dick" in huge letters followed, on a smaller scale, with "and Jessica." Next to the quilt are dense mixed-media pieces that bear similar colors and messages.

The animals — familiar and fanciful — in Gianelle Gelpi's acrylic paintings fit into the bright color scheme of the show; the paintings are cute and endearing and without irony, well-suited for children's books or kids' bedrooms. They lack the edge that delivers a kick of painful, grown-up reality to the overall concept. Gelpi also created a series of straightforward 5-by-7-inch black-and-white animal drawings — a zebra, snake, fish, sheep, flamingo, gator and others; the images are comforting, though not challenging.

In "The Sweet Wild" exhibit, curator Jennifer Poindexter catches viewers with unexpected interpretations of what exactly that term means in the hands of three women artists with strong but different visions.

—Lindy T. Shepherd

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