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Six speakers. Twenty images each. All came from vastly different backgrounds, but by letting an audience into their worlds, they offered a deeper look at themselves and their small parts of San Antonio.
Hundreds turned out to Venue Villita (formerly known as the Villita Assembly Building) on Tuesday for the 34th iteration of PechaKucha, a recurring program that offers speakers a chance to talk about whatever they want. Participants typically include designers, academics, artists, and writers.
Tuesday’s speakers were CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams, audio-visual engineer John A. Martinez, recently retired City Archaeologist Kay Hindes, art writer Neil Fauerso, jazz journalist and radio host Anthony Dean-Harris, and artist and writer Anel I. Flores.
Each presented a different path to understanding, whether through family photographs and memories, examples of their work, or visual metaphors drawn from others’ art.
Since getting its start among designers in Japan, PechaKucha has spread to cities around the world. In San Antonio, speakers are chosen by an independent group led by architect Vicki Yuan. Tuesday’s event was hosted by artist Ethel Shipton and News 4 anchor Randy Beamer.
Gold-Williams offered a somewhat rare look into her personal background and what led her to become the leader of one of the country’s largest municipally-owned utilities. A San Antonio East Side native with roots in Seguin, Gold-Williams became an accountant and worked in the private sector before becoming an executive at CPS Energy. She and her husband have two adult daughters.
“I am a hard worker,” Gold-Williams said. “I am driven. I know what I live to do, and I spent quality time with my girls trying to teach them what hard work looks like and that women can do what they need to do.”
She also spoke about aspirations for San Antonio, painting a broad picture of a better place to live through advances in energy technology.
“We think that San Antonio, Texas, can be the best smart city in the globe in terms of technology, because we’re connected and we care,” she said.
Martinez took the stage next, taking audiences on a journey that began with his childhood spent tinkering with batteries and electronics and ended with mind-bending meditations on the nature of perception and reality itself.
Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the letters “DMT” after the company he started, Direct Motion Technologies, Martinez challenged the audience to break down the series of steps between the source of a sight or sound and the spark of comprehension in an observer’s brain.
“Think of your body as a machine, and your machine comes equipped with a set of mechanical devices or sense organs,” Martinez said. “These devices transmit electrical-chemical signals up to the brain, thus creating the current state of being that you see, your reality.”
For Hindes, an architect and historian with around 35 years’ experience, an important way of seeing the world is through the physical remains that others long ago have left behind, waiting to be unearthed.
Hindes told the crowd about deciding to pursue her interest in archaeology as a young mother from Charlotte, a town south of San Antonio. She showed pictures from one of her first major digs, surrounding the failed Applewhite Reservoir on San Antonio’s South Side.
Hindes went on to work on prominent digs that uncovered lost Spanish missions, Mexican fortifications during the 1835 Battle of Bexar, and countless treasures of ceramics and even occasional gold and silver coins.
“You are never too old to pursue your dream,” Hindes said. “Be passionate about your work, and do what you love.”
Fauerso, writer for Texas arts site Glasstire and other publications, offered a tongue-in-cheek journey through his “personal philosophy.” He had the most cohesive set of slides, a set of 20 stills from favorite films that describe the metaphors behind what he called “Neilism.”
In a black-humored way, Fauerso focused his talk on the despair and ennui that often pervades modern life. He ended on a detached amusement or curiosity, which he described as “watching the barn burn.”
“Even in death, when the senses begin to fade, there can be beauty in the senseless,” Fauerso said. “The last act cannot be planned or determined, but you can frame the scene.”
Anthony Dean-Harris, editor of modern jazz blog Nextbop.com, writer for jazz magazine DownBeat, and radio host at Trinity University’s 91.7 FM KRTU, spoke about how he uses his writing and art gallery work as a “prism.”
One if his 20 photos was a picture of the phases of the moon, which he said described himself as someone “reflecting the light of others.”
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“This used to bother me, wondering why I wasn’t shining on my own,” Dean-Harris said. He later added that he’s “gotten more comfortable being a prism, a reflector and reframer of light, wandering about, bringing about the quality of others for the light that they are, every now and then finding something of my own to say.”
Anel I. Flores, a self-described “Chicana, lesbiana, author, artist, and independent scholar,” closed the night by describing how she turned traumatic moments in life, such as being kicked out of her home at 17, into a fuel for her art.
Much of her art focuses on the LGBTQIA and Latina experience, bringing to life ancestors, historical figures that serve as sources of inspiration. One of her images showed her painting of Ometeotl, an Aztec deity of duality.
“You can be whoever you want,” Flores said. “Whoever you want, separating the mind with the physical body. Being able to be in a spiritual space and in both places at one time.”