Pecha Kucha Comes to Hong Kong

Pecha Kucha night, Hong Kong

Pecha Kucha night Hong Kong

Six minutes and 40 seconds is not a lot of time. It’s about how long it takes to ride the MTR from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui, or to heat up a frozen dinner in the microwave. But that’s all the time that 10 people will have to share their passion at the upcoming Pecha Kucha Night. A show-and-tell party for creative types, it’s being held at a bar in Exchange Square tomorrow — the fifth Pecha Kucha event in Hong Kong.

“I asked that people share some of their obsessions because that’s one thing that unites everyone,” says Oriana Reich, a graphic designer and branding consultant who curated the event. “They all have obsessions that drive their work and inspire them. I want people to bring their passion into it.”

Pecha Kucha Night was devised by two Tokyo-based architects in 2003 as an entertaining way for young designers to network and share ideas (pecha kucha is the Japanese equivalent of chit-chat). The simple format — keep presentations concise and focused by forcing speakers to show 20 images and talk about them for no more than 20 seconds each — worked so well it spread to 170 cities around the globe.

The Ambassadors of Design, a non-profit foundation, introduced Pecha Kucha to Hong Kong last year as part of its mission to promote design as part of city life.

With Hong Kong’s wealth of talent but dearth of community, Ambassadors’ project manager Millie Hung says they hope to bring people from different fields together, giving them a chance to see what others are doing, how they’re doing it and why.

Promoted mainly through the internet, design schools and companies, Pecha Kucha Night has grown from an initial audience of 100 to more than 350 at the most recent event.

“We found that it’s a good networking opportunity for both designers and the public,” says Hung. “It’s like a happy hour; everyone gets together and talks and listens to the presentations.”

Marketing executive Emma French, who attended for the first time last spring, says her favourite presentation was by a man who redesigned the MTR maps.

“It sounded really dry on paper, but it actually wasn’t. He talked about the mentality of designers and the obsessive-compulsiveness that it takes to do something like make a map,” says French. “I like the atmosphere. It’s a really unusual mix of people that you don’t see anywhere else.”

The material isn’t as esoteric as one would expect. Over the past six years, as Pecha Kucha has spread around the world, it has evolved beyond architecture and design. In many cities, presentations are made by people as varied as musicians, bakers, trapeze artists and urban planners.

Tomorrow’s event at Exchange Square will feature an architect, two artists, a boutique owner, a fashion designer and the Hong Kong distributor of Moleskine notebooks. Reich, who volunteered to curate after speaking at the past event, spent three months tapping her contacts to find an eclectic mix of presenters.

“I wanted to bring in a diverse group of people,” she says. “I didn’t want any repeats, like two graphic designers, or all architects, or anything like that. It was actually quite hard to pick just one person from all these different fields. But some haven’t had a platform to share their work before and I wanted to give that opportunity to them. There are countless talented people in Hong Kong who aren’t given a chance to talk about and share what they do.”

Among those people is Roberto Davolio, an architect who specialises in co-ordinating the design, engineering and construction of new buildings. Davolio says he was surprised by Reich’s invitation because he’s used to working behind the scenes in a job that isn’t always well understood.

“When an architect designs something quite sculptural, you venture into a different world. Normally, architecture is based on very linear, very flat, very vertical geometries,” he says. “Once you break this barrier and go into something that is curved or inclined, the manufacturing challenges are quite big because the technology that is used to build buildings is quite primitive, nowhere even close to the technology used to design a plane or a car.”

Architects and designers often work without thinking about the practical implications of their design, says Davolio. He hopes that by sharing his experience, he can help designers understand the importance of working between disciplines and understanding the full impact of their work.

“I’m a firm believer that design has to be locally driven. Architects, before they design something, have to understand local cultural and economic factors. You have all these architects from the US who are now hired to design things in China, but they never really go there.

“Like what they had been building in Beijing for the Olympics … those buildings are quite sexy, but also very challenging to build. What I do is close the gap between the concept and the actual execution.”

Visual artist Carol Lee Mei-kuen doesn’t have such an involved agenda – she just plans to talk about the themes behind her latest work, which explores the relationship between time and human interaction.

Several years ago, while clearing out a closet after the death of her mother, Lee found a number of lacy shirts, scarves and handkerchiefs. She took the garments and placed them against newsprint, which yellowed over time, leaving behind ghostly, delicate shadows where the garments had rested.

“I use more natural things to say something about the human relationship, no chemicals or paint, just light and time,” says Lee.

“Twenty slides and 20 seconds is quite short, but I think it’s a way to share ideas with others and stimulate artists and designers. This kind of event is quite interesting because you can see different works or different kinds of ideas from different people. This could create a good discussion between different fields.”

Like many of the presenters tomorrow, Lee has never attended a Pecha Kucha Night. She hadn’t even heard of it until Reich contacted her. But word spreads quickly in Hong Kong and some new changes to the Pecha Kucha format, such as the addition of a question-and-answer session, could boost its popularity.

“Pecha Kucha is part of an awakening that Hong Kong and the design community is having about the need to be more open and more willing to give different people an opportunity to share what they do,” says Reich.

“It’s a sign that people want to come out of the woodwork, that they sense there’s something going on. Hong Kong has some pretty exceptional talent. It deserves a Pecha Kucha.”

This story was first published in the June 16, 2009 edition of the South China Morning Post. Photos courtesy Hong Kong Ambassadors of Design.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Tuesday June 16 2009at 01:06 am , filed under Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Society and Culture and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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