PechaKucha Night Vol. 8: The Care and Feeding of a Full and Hungry House
By Miriam Sitz
In keeping with tradition, the eighth PechaKucha Night to take place in San Antonio saw a packed house. Hopeful attendees began lining up to make the $5 entrance donation at 6:15 p.m., while around 120 presale ticket holders filtered in with the calm assurance that comes with a guaranteed seat.
“It’s one of the only venues in town that cross-pollinates the cultural arts, from writers to artists to architects,” said PechaKucha veteran Matt Wallace. “It touches on serious stuff, it touches on funny stuff, everything.” From artists to chefs and biologists to musicians, PK8 was perhaps the smoothest running, most diverse night yet. PechaKucha is organized by the Architecture Foundation of San Antonio and sponsored by Alamo Beer and The Rivard Report.
Jamie Stockwell, journalist: “You know, I think we should kill an animal this weekend.” Jamie Stockwell recalled a conversation with her partner Becky. Until recently, Stockwell was a fairly strict vegetarian. The granddaughter of a “devoted and kind” South Texas cattle rancher, she grew up eating plenty of meat. “Being raised amidst such deep traditional ranching roots, I was taught to respect the animals raised. …We knew where our food came from and what it meant when we sat down for our meals.” After deciding to reincorporate meat into her diet and “to be ok with it,” Stockwell explained that it felt like coming out all over again, in a new but equally significant way. Her return to meat began at the farmers’ market: farm fresh eggs, bacon from “a happy, pasture raised pig,” and bread from Restaurant Gwendolyn. Soon after, sitting down to a dinner of bison, she and Becky paused to ponder, “What’s the karmic cost for eating another animal? If I love animals so much, how can I justify eating them? What does it mean to eat meat? Do I need to step into my grandfather’s shoes to earn the right to be a carnivore?” With the slow food movement in San Antonio gaining steam and local grocery stores increasingly stocking pasture raised and grass-fed animals, Stockwell’s journey and the similar ventures of others are more and more finding a place in San Antonio. “Every day I remember my grandfather who at 92, still insists on working his land. He is a man who prays over his food every day, thankful that the cows he raised feed him and so many others. In the end, for me too, it’s all about respecting life.”
Kelly Lyons, ecologist: Lyons, a biologist who studies invasive species, led the PechaKucha Night 8 audience through a faced-paced survey of invasive species in our local environment and the world around. Lyons defined invasive species as “species that have net negative ecosystem impacts, they’re homogenizing, meaning that they reduce biodiversity, and the majority of invasive species are nonindigenous or exotic, meaning that they come from other places.” She explained the paths of plants like the prickly pear, kudzu (also known as “the vine that swallowed Dixie”), and crowd favorite rapistrum rugosum or “bastard cabbage” as they have arrived to invasive species status. Moving on from plants, Lyons rapidly elaborated upon several more creatures whose proliferation audience members could help to abate. “You should eat as many of these as possible,” she said, after rattling off quick bios of the nutria, brown snake, lionfish (a slightly trickier meal than the others, she noted), wild boar, and Asian tiger shrimp. All too common in Texas and specifically San Antonio, she concluded with a story about cedar (a native plant that became invasive after improper management of rangelands) and ferrel cats.
Chris Sauter, artist: “My work is concept driven, involving a lot of thinking and planning,” Sauder explained, before displaying sketched plans for an installation of a microscope made entirely of drywall harvested from a nearby wall (image to the right). Similar installations yielded drywall bleachers (which met a swift and unfortunate end at the hands of overly-touchy viewers) and a breathtaking telescope pointed toward the wall from which it originated, gazing at circular holes left by the sections of drywall material removed for its construction. “Agriculture is a huge part of my work. I’m interested in it because it’s a point where we interact directly with nature… without agriculture, there would be no civilization,” Sauter commented, while showing a picture of two power lines he constructed entirely out of wheat. An image of one of Sauter’s pieces, a small reconstruction of the Hoover Dam sitting in a gorge shaped like two people spooning cut into a bed, proved to be a crowd favorite. He explained the symbolism between marriage and the Dam: “Marriage is a place where biology and culture interact directly. Marriage functions to generate culture and power by regulating a natural process, in other words sex and procreation.” Heavy on concepts, meaning, and impeccable design, the quick survey of Sauter’s impressive body of work proved to be an engaging and meaningful journey for the PKN8 audience.
Jeff DeCuir, artist/musician: Hyperbubble, a band described on Wikipedia as an “international visual and performing arts electro pop/synthpop duo,” consists of Jeff DeCuir and Jess Barnett DeCuir, musicians and college art teachers. ”Since joining my first band at the age of 15, I’ve learned to never underestimate the importance of presentation. Ever element must be addressed: the sound, the look, the concept, and the name of your product,” said Decuir. More than just a band, Hyperbubble is a collection of symbols, including text, graphic art, audio, video, live performance, and photography. The band’s aesthetic suggests a synthesis of 60s pop, 70s disco, 80s post punk, and 90s techno; “hyperactive bubblegum music,” explained DeCuir. After a successful viral video online, Hyperbubble signed with a record label out of England, produced an album, and toured the UK in 2008 (where DeCuir was dubbed “the David Hasslehoff of synth pop,” he proudly noted). The band has performed at SXSW and Luminaria, toured a second time in Europe, produced additional records, supplied music for several movies, and generally experienced greater success than either of the members expected at the outset of their endeavor.
Maria Palma, chef/educator: “My passion for food is really about how food has the power to bring together different segments: culture, art, economics, geography, politics, history.” From the very beginning of her presentation, Palma’s love and understanding of food proved almost inseparable from its cultural, historic, and literary settings. “The term ‘salad days’ refers to someone’s youthful time,” she explained, “a time of inexperience and enthusiasm. It was first seen in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Cleopatra describes her past affair with Julius Caesar as, ‘My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood.’” Palma walked the audience through local comfort foods of her home, Guatemala, elaborated on the political conflict over hummus in the Middle East, explained the history and evolution of sushi, originally considered a poor person’s food, and shared how ancient Egyptians first discovered foie gras. All of examples served to further her concluding points: “We owe our culinary traditions to those before us,” Palma said. “I believe that when we are able to share a meal together barriers are broken.”
Mark Stoeltje, advocate: Stoeltje’s presentation began with sobering images of faces that all too often come to mind at hearing the words mental illness: Jared Lee Loughner of Tuscon and James Holmes of Aurora. The next image was Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As Stoeltje explained that these samples are not representative of those with mental illness, the images onscreen gave way to beautiful portraits by David Massey of San Antonio Clubhouse members. As the lovely slides scrolled on, Stoeltje described the Clubhouse program. “When people come to the Clubhouse, they basically leave their mental illness at the door.” Though most Clubhouse members live well below the poverty line, have experienced multiple hospitalizations, or even have been in prison, their time at the Clubhouse focuses instead on their strengths and abilities. Set up like a workplace, individuals come to develop meaningful relationships and to be involved in meaningful work. Members volunteer their time to do all the work of the clubhouse, from clerical duties to cooking and cleaning. All Clubhouse decisions are made by consensus between the members and the staff, which for many translates into their first experience with having a voice, a say, and a choice. “[Our members] have taught me so much,” said Stoeltje, “they have taught me an incredible amount. They have a resilience that’s really unbelievable.”A privately funded, non-profit organization, the Clubhouse relies on the support and generosity of individuals and foundations.
Ansen Seale, artist: Inventor, artist, and photographer, Seale shared the inspiration and process of his pieces commissioned for the Lila Cockrell Theater. Using a slit-scan camera of his own design which focuses light on a single vertical pixel row, Seale set out on an expedition to capture images of each of four river confluences in San Antonio. With the slit-scan camera, stationary objects are blurred while objects in motion are rendered more clearly. “You might be tempted to say that the resulting image (to the right) is distorted, but I would argue that it’s actually an accurate although different way of recording the same reality,” said Seale. Using this technique to photograph river confluences for the theater, Seale captured the reflection of the sky (top), the waves, and leaves floating by (the rainbow streaks at the bottom of the image). He undertook a lengthy production process for the theater artwork. The slit-scan images were first separated into their component colors, processed with software to be rendered in dots, printed on large panels of plexiglass in their stippled, color-separated forms, then pressure-cooked for eight hours to be compressed into their final form. The perfectly clear slabs (which weigh more than 400 pounds) form a complete image, but the dots are separated in space by the plexiglass. “My work for the Lila Cockrell Theater is all about the flow of water and the flow of time,” Seale explained. “Just as the numerous smaller waterways in and around San Antonio all converge to form one life-giving system, we as individuals work together to create the continuous flow of history.”
Tim McDiarmid, caterer: McDiarmid’s presentation began with a picture of her birth certificate. Yes, Tim is her real, whole, and complete first name. A native of the wilds of British Columbia, her childhood in Canada, 17 years in New York City, and other adventures across this country and the world imbued her with vast and varied experience in culinary arts, events, and catering. The Special Projects Social, an endeavor produced by McDiarmid and her collaborator Peter Zubiate, synthesizes art, food, music, and community through a series of pop-up restaurants. Fluid in their inspiration and theme, the dinners have evolved and grown into increasingly polished, complex, and popular events. “Perhaps the most crucial piece of the puzzle is the location,” explained McDiarmid. “We’ve done them in old warehouses, private homes, and even outside next to train tracks. … We love interesting spaces. I especially love interesting spaces with kitchens.”
Miriam Sitz works for Accion Texas Inc., the nation’s largest non-profit microlender. You can follow her on Twitter at @Miriam210. A graduate of Trinity University, she also authors the blog Miriam210.com and makes/sells handmade soap, cards, and other crafts at TinderboxGoods.com.