I’ve been setting up a series of art’n’entertainment evenings – David Gale’s Peachy Coochy Nites at ArtsAdmin’s new bar in Toynbee Studios, down London way. Last Thursday was the inaugural occasion, featuring presentations from dancer Wendy Houstoun, visual artists Dan Harvey, Jeff McMillan, Gary Stevens and Dragan Alexsic and myself. The presentations consisted of responses to the following brief: you have 20 images and 20 seconds per image. In those 20 seconds you talk about the images. You must be precise. That’s it.
As a means of tempering the oral exuberance of young architects a Japanese architectural firm restricted pitching session invitees to the aforedescribed format. The feeling was that 400 seconds per pitcher was a reasonable amount of time in which to make a decent case and ascend to the short list. The events were called pecha kucha which is an onomatopeic term that, to the Japanese ear, resembles the sound of chatter.
The format has been recognised around the world as a rather good set of constraints for non-business purposes. Give it to a bunch of artists, performers and anyone with a tale to tell or a point to make and see what happens. The other night, playing to a packed bar, the pioneer coucheurs (Fr, ‘mauvais coucheur’ – awkward customer) mounted the podium and submitted to the merciless machine timings of a Powerpoint show set to progress through an image series at precisely 20 second intervals.
And what a pleasure it was to behold! We had Harvey, wry but poignant, on his Arctic visit; McMillan on Lubbock, Texas, his paintings and his roof garden; Houstoun’s strident and witty manifesto for the wholesale rejection of most aspects of everyday life; Stevens – normally the monkey in the pack, delivering an entirely straight but thoroughly absorbing disquisition on Van Eyck’s ‘Double Portrait’; myself with a tale of Capgras syndrome and parallel universes; finally Alexsic, suffering from flu and exhaustion, breaking most of the fundamental ground rules with great charm and laconic three second-long speeches instead of the mandatory 20 seconds, applied to images of his drawings.
The coucheur needs to have his or her wits about them. Speech units must terminate at the point of slide transition unless the coucheur has designed segue into the system. At this early stage in the development of the form that will supplant karaoke it may be wise to echew extreme purities – they will only constrain the innovators in non-fruitbearing ways. However, it is certainly possible to identify a small number of offensive practices: the use of random images that are connected in a random manner i.e. there is no continuity to the text that frames the images; the use of non-random images in a non-random manner i.e. the presentation resembles a conventional narrativised ‘My Holidays’ show in which the theme is privileged to the exclusion of the unexpected counterpoint of images.
Within seconds of writing the second half of the last sentence I retract it. This is far too prescriptive – what must I have been thinking? Were this fastidious prescriptiveness to be extended to the neurosurgeons, policemen, robbers and collectors of Unusual Things who might grace the evenings with their stories then we would have no stories. Which reminds me, I must try to persuade Hazel to do it.
Next Peachy Coochy Nite: February 28th. Booking advised.