A Bear in the Forest

“At the playground, I jump from the brick wall to the slide and it’s about like six feet apart. I’ve been trying to land perfectly on it and that shows my bravery. Symbolizing my strength, I help my friends and what they have trouble doing, like lifting stuff, carrying stuff somewhere, everything like that.”

– Jordan Williams

The following conversation is between my little cousin Jordan Williams and myself. I commissioned Jordan with $100 to collaborate on a social practice art project. I used the “hanging out” method coined by Harrell Fletcher, the director of the art & social practice MFA program, to explain the purpose of the project and to pick his brain. Jordan surprised me with his quick understanding of social practice art. Usually, I need to explain the concept of social practice art in various ways but Jordan understood right away. Jordan was interested in the symbol of a bear and the use of clay. We used the $100 dollars to buy the following supplies: clay, chicken wire, pliers, acrylic paint, shadow box, and molds. 

To kick off our first “hangout” or collaborative art session, Jordan attended a Saturday school session I was hosting at the school where I teach art (Peak High School in Dallas, TX). We set up our workspaces in my classroom while my students completed their work. We were going to make a bear using our supplies, and decided that we would each work on a part of the bear. Jordan sculpted the body and limbs. I was left to sculpt the head and assemble all of the body parts. 

Afterward, Jordan and I visited the Fort Worth Water Gardens and a park in the Fort Worth Area. There were several connections made throughout the day which created a rich collaborative environment. Jordan shared his perception around self, vegan food, and his favorite video game. 

Jordan at the Fort Worth Water Gardens. Photo by Kiara Walls.

Kiara: I am in a graduate program called art and social practice at Portland State University in Oregon. When you hear art and social practice, what do you think? 

Jordan and Kiara take a selfie at Fort Worth Water Gardens. Photo by Kiara Walls.

Jordan: I think you’re being social and doing art with the person you’re being social with.

Kiara: Okay, That’s a really good guess and that’s pretty much what that means. So for this project, can you explain, how do you think this project is tied to social practice? 

Jordan: I think it’s tied to social practice so that you work better with people when you’re doing art and doing other stuff.

Kiara: Okay. So with us doing our project together, how do you think we can make this an art and social practice project? 

Jordan: We are socializing, and we’re going to build it and make it. So, we’re talking about how we’re going to do it so then when we build it we have an idea.  

Kiara: Yes, that is a really good answer. What are some of your ideas for this project? Can you explain what we are going to do?

Jordan: We are going to make a bear in a forest. The trees will be made out of clay and wire, and the bear will be made of brown clay. We are also going to use a mold for the leaves on the trees and everything like that. We are probably going to use actual dirt for the ground. 

Jordan running in the park, akin to the bear in the forest he is making with Kiara. Photo by Kiara Walls.

Kiara: Great. So why are we doing a bear in a forest? How did you come up with that idea? 

Jordan: It symbolizes myself, my bravery and my strength. 

Kiara: Can you share some examples of where you have been brave or strong? 

Jordan: At the playground, I jump from the brick wall to the slide and it’s about like six feet apart. I’ve been trying to land perfectly on it and that shows my bravery. Symbolizing my strength—I help my friends and what they have trouble doing, like lifting stuff, carrying stuff somewhere, everything like that. 

Kiara: Wow. Okay. You sound like a really good friend, Jordan. What are you most excited about with making this project with your cousin?

Jordan: Getting to hang out with you and finally getting to do clay art.

Kiara: Okay, this is your first time doing clay art?

Jordan: Yes.

Kiara: What are you most excited about in terms of working with clay art?

Jordan holding “Bear” made out of clay. Photo by Kiara Walls.

Jordan: I am most excited about molding the bear and getting it just to where it’s good… good enough.

Kiara: What materials are we using for this project?

Jordan: We are going to use clay, wire, wire cutters, and paint brushes. We are also going to use dirt.

Kiara: Where do you think we should get the dirt from?

Jordan: Let’s see… probably from a bald spot where there’s no grass.

Kiara: A bald spot where there is no grass. Okay, so do you want to get this from like a park, or do you want to get it from your apartment complex?

Jordan: Um, let’s get it from a park.

Kiara: Okay, so we need to find a park to get some dirt from. What else… is there anything else that you can think of that we are going to use?

Jordan: Hmm, probably a bit of styrofoam.

Kiara: Okay that sounds good. This is going to be our first reflection so we can record each stage of the process. And then I am going to ask you more questions when we’re actually making the work and see how you feel with everything. Then we are going to answer more questions when we finish the project. Does that sound good?

Jordan: Yes. It does sound really good.

Kiara: Okay great.

Please join Jordan and I at Assembly TV on June 11th at 4:00 pm PST where we’ll present our finished version of “A bear in the forest”. Find more info at:


Kiara Walls (she/her) is a teaching visual artist originally from LA but now stationed in Dallas, Texas. Her work is centered around increasing awareness of the need and demand for reparations to repair the injuries inflicted on the African American community. This interpretation is seen through many forms including drawings, sculptures, and video installations. www.kiarawalls.com

Jordan Williams (he/him) is a 9-year-old artist, 4th grader, and big brother to his younger sibling Josiah. Jordan enjoys playing video games like Minecraft and playing outside with his friends at the playground where there are slides. He aspires to be an engineer in computer science when he grows up. 

The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.

Created within the Portland State University Art & Social Practice Masters In Fine Arts. Program, SoFA Journal is now fully online.

Conversations on Everything is an expanding collection of interviews produced as part of SoFA Journal. Through the potent format of casual interviews as artistic research, insight is harvested from artists, curators, people of other fields and everyday humans. These conversations study social forms of art as a field that lives between and within both art and life.

SoFA Journal
c/o PSU Art & Social Practice
PO Box 751
Portland, OR 97207