By Sarah Fisch
May 26th, 2012

George Bernard Shaw suggested that every five to seven years, a person should appear before a committee to justify his or her continued existence. Without the attendant possibility that their lease on life might not be renewed, the eight participants in last night’s PechaKucha rose to just that kind of challenge. There are few spectator experiences so rewarding as to engage with somebody who plain-out loves something.

On Thursday night, a lively crowd overflowed the HQ of the Architecture Foundation of San Antonio in the Full Goods Building at the Pearl complex, home to the San Antonio iteration of PechaKucha, the Tokyo-born, now worldwide program of locally held show and tell gatherings. Presenters have six minutes and 40 seconds to do their thing. That’s 20 slides, 20 seconds each, with a running monologue. They can talk about their work, their passions, or make it an apologia of their aesthetics and ethos, or simply to experiment. This is the fourth San Antonio iteration of Pecha Kucha I’ve attended, and the sixth in San Antonio, orchestrated by the Architecture Foundation of San Antonio, the redoubtable Lake/Flato architect Vicki Yuan, and writers Ben Judson and Callie Enlow.

Although the format’s constrained — or rather, perhaps, because the format’s constrained, it’s fascinating to watch as different thinkers compress or stretch to fit into it. There’s a subversive utility in thinking inside the box — think of the rewards yielded by the formal criteria of a fugue, a yurt, or villanelle. Also note that it’s always the grocery store and hardware materials challenges that get the Project Runway folks on their best game.

There have been presenters over the series of evenings who’ve treated the platform as more or less a Powerpoint presentation. This can be very effective — months ago Diana Kersey, ceramicist, documented the painstaking process of her fine art and her object-based, consumerable work, through her series of slides which showed the various processes she’s mastered. It left the crowd having learned something not only about the woman, but the woman at work. Justin Boyd, sound artist, undercut the visual element of Pecha Kucha, using each “slide” as a caption to state the location and date of the 20-second audio sample he played in conjunction, working outwards in his field recordings from the crowded muffle of an elevator’s interior to the majestic openness of a seaside. Other presenters have allowed the slide show to supplement the verbal points they make, rather than sectioning their verbiage into slide-by-slide commentary.

The great appeal of the Pecha Kucha formula lies in its meta-didactic angle, and its economy. There’s almost nothing so boring that you can’t sit and listen for six minutes and 40 seconds, and best case (and more likely) scenario is that you’ll learn something.

"...Newberry provided a good set-up for artist/chili queen Ana Fernandez, no slouch in the absurdism department. Although an in-demand and accomplished painter, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and UCLA, with a sold-out one-woman show at Joan Grona among her recent credits and an exhibition up currently at Austin’s Women and Their Work gallery, she chose instead to focus on her reign as a Chili Queen. A disclaimer: I collaborated with Fernandez on the catalog copy for her Austin show, and on some of the early copy for her Chili Queen concept. So I can’t be objective.

But I was surprised and impressed that her attitude towards her different modes of artmaking could be summed up thusly; yeah, I’m a painter. Meanwhile, I lost my job as a Paseo del Rio barge driver (true story!) and decided to buy a taco truck, use my talent for cooking, and honor the original Chili Queens of the 19th-into-the-mid-20th century, who sold chili by the bowl in public plazas to swells and workers alike.

Fernandez developed a recipe using the flavor profiles and traditional ingredients favored in Chili Queen heyday. She’s incorporated them into craze-inducing dishes including “The Roosevelt” and “The Bomb.” Very cannily, she featured slides of the food. The audience swooned and gasped. She was funny, too, describing her Botanica to Go, also housed in her taco truck, the signal product of which is a line of incense which, depending on which you buy, ensures friend-requests on Facebook or the ability to control others.
The Chili Queens food truck at Alamo Eats Bar

The Chili Queens food truck at Alamo Eats Bar

Beamer went all puzzled in his follow-up, re-iterating Fernandez’ impressive educational and artistic background. She explained that she cooks at certain times, and paints at other times. It’s not so crazy. She loves good food and the chili queen tradition, so she’s doing that too. She manages a humor in everything without anything being a joke, or an ironic pseudo-dive into the service industry. Contemporary painter? Yup. Chili Queen? Yes."