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Bullet-point cinémathèque
What to do with a technology that trivializes content and bores people rigid? Make art!

| 17 November 2004

Many people experience ennui during a PowerPoint presentation. But last year, during a visit to Mexico City, Pacific Film Archive video curator Steve Seid experienced satori.


The PowerPoint presentation that inspired PFA’s Steve Seid to showcase the medium at two special events. The gist is that Mexico’s economy will surpass Japan’s in eight years — if the Japanese start standing still right now.
The presentation, Seid recalls, was “a satire, somewhat stilted and a bit primitive, of Mexican President Vicente Fox’s economic policies, complete with ticky-tacky clip-art and cheesy canned applause.” He loved it.

Thus inspired, Seid decided to investigate how many people were using the ubiquitous software, which for two decades has induced yawns in conference rooms worldwide, for other than corporate purposes. He issued a call for entries to the Berkeley campus, to 60 artists who teach at art and film schools across the country, and more generally through e-mail solicitations. Forty-five people responded to his invitation by submitting their, er, finest work.

The best of the bunch will be shown at PFA on Wednesday, Dec. 1, at “PowerPoint to the People™: An Evening of Automated Digital Presentations.”

Seid regrets the dearth of submissions from the corporate-design world. “It might be because ‘PowerPoint to the People’ sounds too lefty or jokelike,” he speculates. The entrants were all visual artists, reports Seid, with the exception of a rapper from Rhode Island.


At PFA’s Dec. 8 PowerPoint competition, Marisa Olson will provide live commentary on How to Train for American Idol (above), replete with tales of her voice training, makeover, and wardrobe fittings.
One submission, “100 Charts,” came from an employee at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who uses PowerPoint as a creative outlet to relieve his boredom at work. The results, Seid says, are “breathtakingly poignant and subversive at the same time.” Another entry, “Winona Needs Us,” employs bullet-pointed text to poke fun both at Hollywood’s most famous shoplifter and at more conventional uses of the software. Michael Bell-Smith, an East Coast artist, submitted “Small Fires,” which Seid describes as “a poetic essay on images of flames salvaged from the web.”

Other entries on the Dec. 1 program include Peter Norvig’s PowerPoint presentation of the Gettysburg Address, which compresses the document to a series of talking points, and a piece from former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.

On Wednesday, Dec. 8, Seid will raise the bar even higher with “PowerPoint to the People™: The Live Competition.” Four contestants will put their presentations before a panel of judges that includes monologuist Josh Kornbluth, digital-communications designer Eric McDougall, and artist Anne Walsh, a Berkeley faculty member in Art Practice.

To add a bit of intrigue to the competition, Seid has devised a strange incentive to befuddle the competitors — first prize is $75, second prize gets $100, and third prize walks away with $150.

“Because mastering this program is a questionable talent, you shouldn’t be compensated for how well you know it,” he explains. “With Power-Point’s strange limitations, the less of a master you are, the more you bring to it.”

How, then, does a contestant go about winning third place?

Seid answers this Zenlike riddle with what might pass for a koan: “Just make less of an effort.”

The PFA Theater is located at 2575 Bancroft Way. Admission to each “PowerPoint to the People™” presentation will be $8. For further information, visit www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/pfa_programs/powerpoint/index.html.