November 13th, 2007 5:33 pm | by RICHARD SPEER News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Pecha Kucha: PDX’s creative class gives itself a blowjob

DSC_0245Pecha Kucha Night

8:20 pm, Monday, November 1, 2007

Pecha Kucha Night. Sort of sounds like some nocturnal luau, doesn't it? Some kind of ukelele grass-skirt coconut-bra soiree with apple-mouthed roasted pigs and weak Mai Tais in tiki glasses. If only.

Pecha Kucha (Japanese slang for “conversation”) is a globe-trotting forum for designers, architects, and other artsy types to speak to audiences about what they do. At least that's what their website ( says. Past events have taken place in cities as far-flung as Belfast, Lima, Perth, and Shanghai. Monday night was Portland's turn, with a program of seven speakers taking the stage for 20 minutes apiece, showing slides, yammering about their jobs, and generally trying very hard to seem nonchalant.

Held at the Ace Cleaners space adjoining the Ace Hotel and Clyde Common, the event drew a standing-room-only crowd of hundreds of design geeks spilling out onto the sidewalk, with a doorperson enforcing a “one out, one in” policy due to fire code. It is either really impressive or really scary that such an event could draw so many people on a miserable Monday night—and an officially observed holiday, at that.

An observation: “Hipster” is an overused word, especially here in town, where it tends to be used as a catch-all strawman for all that irks us. It's tempting to believe that “the hipster” does not actually exist, but rather is a linguistic construct into which we can siphon all our piss and vinegar. It is both discomfiting and reassuring, therefore, to observe crowds such as Pecha Kucha drew, who prove definitively that the networking, Merlot-sipping hipster is in fact real and alive and well and wearing really expensive shoes.

Taking the stage were Ryan Yaden from Works Partnership Architecture; writer Garett Strickland, who hosts a monthly event called “Phase One: Words + Music”; writer and former WW contributer Brian Libby; artist Scott Wayne Indiana; UrbanHonking co-founder Mike Merrill; p:ear program director Pippa Arend; and Holst Architecture principal Jeff Stuhr.

Libby's travel photologue drew much enthusiasm, with his design-centric descriptions (“This is a hotel in Tokyo, sort of like, a Seventies feel, but Luxury Seventies...”), while Indiana drew applause when he showed a slide of his ubiquitous Horse Project.

Certainly, all of us (or at least most of us?—many?—a few?) agree that toy horses tied to antique rings are nifty, and that UrbanHonking makes for dishy websurfing, but after a certain critical density of choir-preaching and PowerPointing, you begin to wonder who exactly Pecha Kucha's audience is intended to be. Surely we Stumptowners don't need to be reminded for the gazillionth time that p:ear is the Best Darned Nonprofit With a Heart of Gold Ever™. Surely we don't need to be told that the Belmont Lofts are cool-looking and that sustainable architecture is better for the environment than architecture that rapes the land. With such shameless creative-class boosterism the order of the day, I was surprised that Greg Higgins didn't show up with a microphone, touting the wonders of free-range chickens and locally grown organic fennel. Truth is, the last time I saw such passionate auto-fellatio was on Channel 72 at Fantasy Video Burnside.

No doubt Pecha Kucha would be a marvelous Portland primer for New Yorkers, who are so clearly gaga over all matters Northwestern. As it stood, however, Pecha Kucha seemed little more than a venue for high-end spectacles (and the bodies that carried them around) to meet, mingle, and find their perfect mates.

Photos courtesy of Works Partnership Architecture.
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