Ideas can be sexy, especially on a warm night in Hawai'i with the winds gently gusting after a soft rain. In the lee of the majestic Honolulu Museum of Art School, an outdoor auditorium had been created with an inflatable screen. Over a hundred thinkers had gathered to ponder new thoughts and images in the PechaKucha way.
The theme of the evening's presentation was the wide spectrum of light. From the historical to the imperceptible, photographers, artists, an astronomer and an educator presented their images, their ideas and their lives. The PechaKucha allowed each thinker, artist or life activist 20 slides and 20 seconds to speak of each image.
Coincidentally, the Honolulu Museum of Art was congratulated on their 20th PechaKucha presentation by the programs creators Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham in a lively video tribute from their Tokyo design atelier. For over six years, the museum has been presenting the format three times a year. PechaKucha translates in the Japanese as "idle chit-chat." The program offers everything but. Founded in 2003, PechaKucha can now be found in over 540 cities around the globe.
Sculptor Gideon Gerlt presented an overview of his young oeuvre. A recent MFA grad at the University of Hawai'i -Mãnoa, Gerlt wisely focused on his installation at the Spaulding House last fall as an Orvis Artist in Residence. The exterior work let the sun reflect through colored acrylic panels and the wind to leisurely dance with them. Cameras caught the serendipity of the reflections and projected the light into the museum.
Alison Beste is a photographer with an eye on abstraction. She is a conjurer. Her moody seascapes capture light and color long after the sun has set and night erases all hue.
To call him a lamp designer would minimize his artistry. Mark Chai is a sculptor and many of his works produce light. The physical shapes of his structures are organic and sensual. His distillation of light adds emotion; the projections from his lamps create new images and forms. Chai's PechaKucha focused on his process, from the mathematical and structural function to the whimsy of invention and experimentation. He was born in Hawai'i; the organics of the islands are his greatest influence and well evidenced in his work.
Photographer John Hook could have amazed and informed the audience of his technical skills, studied manipulations of light and solid compositional instincts. Fortunately, he did not. The self-effacing artist preferred to focus on the fun he has and the humor he sees. With never a nag, the bouncy and energetic Hook helped us to view the world in a lighter way, a welcomed achievement in these hotly fevered times. We humans are a funny bunch and Hook wants us to remember it. John Hook is a natural born photographer, one to keep an eye on.
King of the keys to the Mauna Kea telescope, astronomer Dr. Güenther Hasinger is lucky to get three days a year of his own lens time; the international scientific community sits on a long waiting list to use our premier observatory. Hasinger presented a series of images that provided a tour of our universe, home of the first light. In his native German accent, Hasinger spoke of the death of light as galaxies consume planets and the birth of light as a star digest the gasses to grow. Once again, I am reminded of the old sailors song, "Oh Lord, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small."
Gaye Chan is a professor and chair of Art and Art History at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, but there was nothing academic about her presentation. Her 20 photographs and narrative explored the period in her family's life as her father slowly passed away with cancer. It offered a beautiful and touching portrait of love, a family and a moment in time. Most poignant was the relationship between her parents, a lifelong, deeply committed love affair. Chan is an aggressive photographer; her next focus will be interesting.
His job is to educate, inform and illuminate brightly. Clearly, the topic of this PechaKucha was right up his alley. Stephan Jost is director of the Honolulu Museum of Art and he presented a brief history of light in art throughout the ages. Classical to contemporary, Jost must have felt constrained by the 6.6 minute format. Nonetheless, he breathlessly covered the spiritual to the organic as only an expert curator can.
Photographer Elisa Chang loves people and Hawai'i, especially people in Hawai'i. She will catch you in your most unguarded moment. She has a beautiful sense of joviality, nothing grand or staged, just the simple and the human. Chang is fun and so was her presentation. She haunts the beaches of Waikiki looking for the images that tickle her fancy. And ours.
Our journey of Life offers moments of bright heaven and searing hell. When I spoke with painter Denise Karabinus at the end of the evening, I was confounded by a woman of great strength, a love of life and an energetic personality; I had expected to meet a woman of irredeemable tragedy. Karabinus presented a series of paintings that documented her life and the loss of her son Julius. Her beautiful boy had a short life and a long bittersweet goodbye. Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a terminal genetic condition with no cure. The life and fate of Julian could have only been met with awe and appreciation and that was the course that this artist took. Today, Karabinus the painter is becoming a photographer. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a support group that creates photographic memories for parents who are about to lose a child. Grateful and empowered, Karabinus wants to aid that journey for others.
Howard Wiig is a wag. In his sing-song voice, obviously the result of preaching many times, to many groups, Wiig scolded and educated and defended our primal birthright to view the beauty of the heavens and the glorious Milky Way that revolves above our heads when the sun takes her daily rest. You can't see any of the Big Show unless it is dark. Most ashamedly, he repeatedly reminded us of the many young children today that have never seen the beauty that has been destroyed by light pollution. What can we do about it? Wiig presented the many technological and design innovations that builders and cities can choose to minimize the excess of light. He showed us the glory and indescribable beauty above, the one we seldom see. Then he poked us in the eye with a single photo. Taken from the big island, just short of 200 miles away, the pic showed the savage effect of the city lights of Honolulu upon our heavens. There was no sky, no star, just man made light. Howard Wiig, keep talkin', brother! The next generation needs you!
The evening was a tribal gathering. The friendly crowd mixed and milled. The presentation invited conversation and every age was present. All needs were met. A table served libations and the gourmet presence of Beyond Burgers teased and sated all hunger. Christine Koroki and Vince Hazen organized the event for the museum.
PechaKucha may have been created as a tidy design proposal efficiency. But look how it has grown; over 100,000 presentations have been made. Projects become humane. Proposals get personable. Art is defined and defended. Ideas are shared and extended without labor. PechaKucha is Light, a little, brief short burst of illumination in our dark world. Heaven bless the communities that seek to gather around an idea. That's where the Light always is.
Gordy Grundy is a Hawaii based artist and arts writer. His visual and literary work can be found at www.GordyGrundy.com.