On Tuesday 2nd December 2014, a number of scholars affiliated with The George Washington Wilson Centre for Visual Culture participated in a Pecha Kucha evening at the Belmont cinema. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Pecha Kucha is a mode of presentation based on showing 20 images, each for 20 seconds with the images advancing automatically. The format originated in Japan, devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture. (If you are interested, you can read more about the origins of Pecha Kucha here.) While Pecha Kucha is a platform open to all, it has become a popular method of public engagement for academics keen to communicate their research with a wider audience.
Last week’s gathering was the ninth event in Aberdeen’s Pecha Kucha series, and our topic was ‘Visual Culture’. The evening was hosted by Dr. Liz Curtis, who is the Public Engagement with Research Coordinator for the College of Arts and Social Sciences and a lecturer in the School of Education. First to present was Dr Ourega-Zoe Ejebu from the Health Economic Research Unit (HERU). She talked about her current research, which concerns the Scottish government’s proposals for alcohol minimum unit pricing. Next up was Alan MacPherson, PhD Candidate in English and Visual Culture, whose presentation, ‘Strange Places in New Nature Writing’, detailed his work on Scottish poet and essayist Kathleen Jamie. Following Alan, Professor Ed Welch, Carnegie Chair of French, presented ‘Visions of the City’, in which he spoke about Paris’ shifting significance throughout history. The first half was brought to a close by Dr Amy Bryzgel, Lecturer in History of Art, whose images provoked the most audible reaction amongst the audience due to their explicit nature. Her talk looked at performance art in Eastern Europe, and you can read more about her work here.
After a short break, I delivered my Pecha Kucha presentation entitled ‘Once Upon a Time: The Time of the Child’. Based on my doctoral research, my intervention produced a formal analysis of the intersection of childhood and time in The Spirit of the Beehive and Pan’s Labyrinth. With reference to stills from both films, I discussed pocket watches, hourglasses, and intertitles. My contention is that these films engage the temporality of childhood as circular, unhinged and multi-directional. They dispense with the mythical time of the fairy tale, in favour of a queer childhood temporality. (If interested, you can view and download my presentation here.)
Dr Paul Flaig, a lecturer in Film and Visual Culture, followed my presentation, offering insights into his work on an edited collection on the topic of New Silent Cinema. Bringing the event to a close, Dr Paul Gault, who is a design researcher with the RCUK Digital Economy dot.rural hub, urged the audience to take to social media when their travel plans are disrupted. To finish the evening, the speakers and several of the audience retired to the Belmont bar, to facilitate further dialogue and communication.
I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this Pecha Kucha event, and would certainly do so again. The format presents a significant challenge to academics used to having 20 minutes in a typical conference scenario and 50 minutes in lecture in which to present their ideas. Synthesising ideas into such a short space of time, around a series of key images requires skill, precision, and creative thinking. The bitesize presentation format is ideal for public engagement, facilitating the communication and dissemination of scholarly research into the world beyond academia. Where I think the Pecha Kucha model may fall short in this context, is that it does not provide much opportunity for dialogue between academics and the wider public. For me, public engagement should not be one-sided, but should rather provide opportunities for dialogue, communication, and exchange. That said, Pecha Kucha is most certainly a worthwhile enterprise, and I would encourage those interested to become involved when the programme of events for 2015 is announced.