November 21, 2008

Nine creative minds from the design industry gathered on Wednesday night for a lively, fun and interactive presentation called Pecha Kucha. The creative presentation and social networking event saw a vibrant and energetic audience absorbing the ideas which ranged from the illuminating eco-consciousness of plastic bottle sculptures and Malaysia’s first locally designed computer game for racing enthusiasts to an exploration of man’s relationship with God, as well as a personal glimpse into an artist’s life in his kampung.

Pecha Kucha (Japanese for “Chit-Chat”), which was started by an architectural firm in Tokyo, Japan, is an event where presenters are given free rein to speak about any subject at all, limited only by the format – they speak for only 20 seconds for each of the 20 slides projected to the audience. Although it can be quite liberating to have an open topic, the format itself is rather restricting as it forces the presenter to be as succinct as possible, while attempting to deliver the topic creatively through the use of images and illustrations.

The KL version of the event started a year ago with a relatively small crowd, says Sunitha Janamohanan, arts manager at British Concil Malaysia, the organizer of the event. “The space (we used then) was quite challenging, and we had some teething problems. The audience didn’t know what to expect. It was quite an unusual (concept) because people came thinking that it was a lecture, but it really wasn’t that at all,” she says.

“But right now, we’re at a stage where people understand that it’s meant to be fun and interesting. The point of Pecha Kucha is to have people sharing creative ideas on any subject they want to. It’s also meant to be a social networking night. That’s why we have it a conductive environment where you can just chill out with your friends and meet people – people with creative ideas – and have that vibrant synergy happening,” she explains.

The fifth installment of Pecha Kucha in KL saw a crowd of about 100 people at The Apartment Downtown, Suria KLCC. Although the presenters only had about six minutes each to talk, they shared many ideas and experiences from their personal life and various projects related to their field of work.

Lisa Foo and Mah Su Sim, who are also known as LFSS, had the crowd entranced when they share images of their beautiful sculptures made our of over 2,000 plastic bottles. The two artist, both of whom have a background in design, sorted, cleaned, sliced and stitched plastic pieces into luminous sculptures, some of which resembled life forms. Their presentation of eerie and mysterious “beings” was given an enchanting and charming treatment, with both of them speaking in short verses to complement the projected slides.

Whilre the duo’s snaking imagery and text took the audience on a journey of the surreal, Joseph Foo’s presentation of a multi-arts exhibition on the supernatural pushed the boundaries of one’s imagination with an artistic interpretation of Man’s relationship with God. The exhibition entitled Man & Man has been to New York, Beijing, Taiwan and Germany.

Foo shared images and experiences from a recent exhibition in Beijing, where artists and performers put up a visual and musical event with posters, Russian dolls and experimental music, as well as a dance performance of the macabre Butoh and Chinese opera. The presentation had both a spiritual and ghoulish nature to it, but it wasn’t lacking in humour or fun. The audience roared with laughter at the display of two different groups of Russian dolls standing on both sides of a badminton court, with the words “God is on our side” printed on both courts.

Also widely popular was the session by Chong Chin Yew, artist and author of the illustrated storybook The Boy Who Loved Clouds. Chong’s background in television production helped with the flow of his presentation, in his choice of images and his verbal communication. His storytelling skills were by far the most fluid, where he drew the audience into the world of ideas and inspiration behind his art and book projects. KL’s Pecha Kucha nights are garnering a respectable following, usually through word of mouth and the Internet. The presenters are usually approached to participate by recommendation or by reputation, says Sunitha, and it is sometimes challenging to find creative people who are willing to participate, due to their unfamiliarity with the concept. “A lot of creative folks out there are not always giving talks or lectures, or invited to speak at seminars. So, they get a little intimidated by the prospect of standing up in front of a crowd and putting on a presentation.

“But the way it works is that we have no control over what people are going to say. Usually they talk about personal work, and very often they walk about what inspires them. That’s quite nice because we take such ideas and concepts for granted, but we don’t know much about how or who the people behind it are. Pecha Kucha allows people to share that,” say Sunitha.

It was a rare opportunity to hear about the development of the much-publicised Racedriver GRID, designed locally by Codemasters Studios in KL. Maxime Villandre, its general manager, was present to share about his gaming design company’s working culture and vision. The audience also went behind the scenes with Huey Cheong, the art director at a local product design company, Orca Innovation. The company is the patent holder of and award-winning toothbrush holder – the Flipper. The automated plastic toothbrush holder has interested both Hello Kitty and Disney in Japan for its cute and appealing designs.

Another exceptional presenter was Sarah Joan Mokhtar, a young cartoonist who will be publishing an online comic this month. My Spy, a serial “espionage-comedy”, features scenes and unlikely undercover characters inspired by a uniquely Malaysian perspective. She received a grant from Multimedia Development Corp (MDeC) and was a winner at the inaugural Intellectual Property Creators Challenge (IPCC) Series in 2006. Sarah, who currently who’s as a freelance illustrator and designer, is a young prolific comic artist, whose work was published in local monthly comic magazine, Ujang when she was just 15 years old.

Also featured were Mathathir Masri from TheyArtStudio, a graffiti artist, visual artist and indie curactor, who spoke about his hometown and his art; Wong Wai Lam, an industrial designer with a passion for designing for people with disabilities; and Penny Yuen, a graphic design and artist who launched an environmental campaign with her creations of animal characters made out of fabric scraps and plastic bags.

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