An Interview With a Dog About Art
Towards the end of December, 2018, we set up a unconventional sort of interview to further expand the lines of inquiry towards the perception of art. We contacted Dr. Deborah Erickson, a parapsychologist and animal communicator, to conduct an interview with Matoska, the companion of Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr., a member of the PSU Art and Social Practice Program. We asked a series of questions to Matoska, through the facilitation of Deborah, to try and learn what are Matoska’s perceptions of art, whether they consider themselves an artist, and where they draw inspiration in the world.
Deborah: Just to frame this session for you, I’m sitting in my meditation room with a blackout mask over my eyes. I’ve spent about the last 20 minutes or so in conscious breathing, yoga breathing, visualizations, getting myself cleared of negative energy, negative entities, and asking for help from the perfect powerful Source, the Diva of animal communication, and from Matoska’s angels and archangels, to help me get clear messages from her.
Deborah: Okay. Can you see her? Sometimes you’ll see a physical reaction when I connect to animals in their heads. Not always, but sometimes. I’ve talked to a friend’s cats who said her cats were stomping around the house trying to figure out where I was.
Deborah: So, who’s asking questions? I’d like to take ’em just one or two at a time.
Michael: Sure. I’ll go one at a time, ’cause that makes sense.
Deborah: Okay. Let’s get started. What’s your first question for her?
Michael: The first question is, “What kind of art do you like?”
Deborah: Okay. Hold on just a sec. She’s been waiting for me, by the way. Hold on.
Deborah: So, in one of the photographs sent, Michael, her front feet were crossed. Was it posed or did she do that?
Michael: That was Matoska in her finest.
Deborah: Exactly, ’cause that’s the picture I just got when I connected with her. Very regal. Very smart. And so I introduce myself and I say, “Michael asked me to talk with you. Is that okay with you?”
Deborah: And she says, “Of course. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Deborah: For the question, “What kind of art do you like”. She kind of looked around and thought, she finally said, “Well, nature is art.” To her, the outside is art to her. And I said, “Well, okay. Do you like sculpture?” Has she ever seen sculpture? I don’t think she really understood what I meant by that. So, I think if anything, her “favorite art” would be natural things portrayed on canvas or a picture or something like that. I mean, she kind of didn’t know how to answer that question, I don’t think. And from her perspective, nature is art.
Michael: So, the question is, “Do you like social practice art?”
Deborah: How has she been exposed to this? Would she know what that means?
Michael: Well, I guess you can convey, which more questions will come up about it. She attends class with me, so for all intents and purposes, my understanding is Matoska’s also pursuing her Master of Fine Art in art and social practice. She’s never missed a class. Then often when I’m practicing, the photo of her in front of that cart, is activated by young people serving food out of it and she has been present for both iterations of that, among other interviews or meetings or engagements that are part of my practice, or others’ practices.
Deborah: Good. That helps. Hold on.
Deborah: Well, she wants to be one of the participants, one of the collaborators. She goes to class with you, but she says she just sits on the side and watches. So, she feels like she’s been sort of shuttled to the side of participating in these exchanges and she doesn’t get to play. Is she normally included or excluded from these collaborative efforts?
Michael: That’s a really great question. She, in class, definitely is kind of more just present. Sometimes she’s kind of bouncing around doing her own thing, but mostly is just relaxed. I have brought her to some of my projects, and again, she’s more present. It’s more of like a social experience for her but non-collaborative creative.
Although this article, originally, the thought was maybe interviewing the dogs who belong or are in partnership with the director of our program. But they just stay at home. Matoska’s much more present in the culture and within that, I have been thinking about collaborating with Matoska, to kind of help develop their practice in their own right.That is kind of oncoming or has slowly begun, and this interview and article is kind of part of that, kind of validating their interests as an individual. So, it’s good to know that they enjoy nature. So far we’ve done some feather collecting together. But I’m looking forward to more, for sure.
Deborah: Good. So, yeah, she wants to be engaged in these events as well. Okay, next question.
Michael: Do you consider yourself an artist, and if so, what sort of work do you want to make?
Deborah: Yeah. Hold on.
Deborah: Well, when I asked her that, I didn’t really get an answer for a while. She’s thinking about it too, and the image I got was like her splashing through a puddle. So, maybe getting her feet wet would enable her to create something. And then I got image of her walking through wet sand. Things that would imprint her footprints, that kind of thing. I sent her a picture of … You know, these elephants or animals that hold a paintbrush in their mouth?
Deborah: And put color on a canvas, and she seemed intrigued but not that interested. It was like the kind of answer, you know, it was sort of a reaction of, “Really?” That was kind of farther than she could think, I think.
Michael: Yeah. The next question is, “What are your major influences as an artist?”
Deborah: So the question is what has influenced her?
Michael: Yeah. “What are your major influences as an artist?” Should be interpreted by however she sees it.
Deborah: Okay. Hold on.
Deborah: Well, she said, “Michael … ” You, of course, as a guardian, she said, “I learn something every class,” that she has with you. Then just engaging with your friends.
Michael: Right. Well, that’s excellent. She’s got a lot of good mentors.
Michael: The final of the easier questions is, “Are you interested in collaboration in your artwork?” Which you kind of mentioned, but I don’t know whether Matoska has more to say.
Deborah: Okay. Hold on.
Deborah: Well, dogs never want to do anything alone. They always want to be engaged with us, with people. And if it’s not with us, then with other dogs. I mean, does she have a “practice” now? And if so, what does she do?
Michael: That’s a good question. I think there’s two pulls. Me trying to deduce what existing parts of her lifestyle is part of her practice. And then also what are ways that I can participate with them that feel collaborative and generative for us both? Well, I mean, again, kind of drawing from nature and pre-existing forms. Sometimes Matoska will find feathers and I’ve begun to collect them for some other purpose in the future. I also was thinking about when she was younger, they would always run to puddles, now then tend to avoid them. But we did … I would think not out of disinterest, but out of respect for my desire to not always have a wet dog. But now, we went to this place at Thousand Acres. I’ve been trying to find it again, but it was kind of like a water dirt bike park for dogs and that may be one of the happiest play sessions I’ve ever seen. So, it would be interesting to work with something there.
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Deborah: Okay. So, what have we got left?
Michael: How do you feel that the social practice program has made space for animals to be seen or heard? Also, something you kind of mentioned, but this is a more specific inquiry.
Deborah: Well, yeah, I kind of got the same. She doesn’t feel that she’s been invited to collaborate or to be part of the action or to be part of the exchanges. So, her answer to, “How do you think animals have been involved,” she’s like, “Well, I haven’t been.”
Michael: Right. Yeah. Cool. I will have to share that with the group. The next questions is: “what is your favorite work of a student that involves animals?”
Deborah: Well I can ask her and just see what I get, and sometimes I’ll get nothing. Okay. Hold on.
Deborah: Well, what I got was an image of a short woman. She has dark hair, very dark. Almost black. Cut very short, with a paintbrush in her hand, doing something on a canvas.
Michael: Hmm. Well, Xi Jie is very short and has dark hair and also Brianna is semi-short and has dark hair. Could be one of them.
Deborah: I don’t know if that matches anyone in her group that she’s ever seen or not or whatever. But Matoska wouldn’t know that. I mean, what she’d see is just a gathering, right?
Michael: What has been your favorite art exhibit and why?
Deborah: Art exhibit and why. Okay. Hold on.
Deborah: The image I get is her sitting in front of a canvas that’s pretty big. I mean not huge, but rather large, and it’s got really brilliantly blue color on it. It’s like, I don’t know, maybe an abstract? But that she remembers, that one was the image that I got from her. Don’t know if that’s anything she’s seen or not…. but that’s about all I got.
Michael: Maybe she sees water as art and the brilliant blue is the ocean.
Deborah: I don’t know.
Michael: So, does the social practice program respect a variety of animals?
Deborah: Hold on.
Deborah: Well, respect, yes. She’s allowed to attend, so she knows that that’s a privilege. So she’s respectful, yes, in that she’s allowed to attend the classes, but she hasn’t been invited to be engaged.
Michael: Right. It seems to be a common theme that needs to be addressed.
Michael: Getting to the end here. How have you grown as a dog, from watching the social practice program over the past year and a half?
Deborah: Okay. Hold on.
Deborah: Well, she said, “Everything has expanded my world.” Dogs that are regularly exposed to new experiences become very accepting and tolerant of their experiences. I had a dog trainer tell me that as a puppy, a puppy should meet 100 people before they’re three months old. That’s a lot of people. So, that’s how she feels that she’s been privileged to be exposed to all these different things that have expanded her world.
Michael: Next one is, In what ways would Matoska like to participate in the program more?
Deborah: Okay. Hold on.
Deborah: Being more engaged in the sense of people saying her name and inviting her response to something that’s going on. I don’t have any experience in trying to describe to her. I mean, she knows more than I do about what these classes are like. But nobody says her name. Nobody invites her in. Right?
Deborah: I mean, so she attends, but, again, she just feels like she’s on the sidelines.
Michael: I love it. All right. This is our final question. How do you feel about food in the program and the inclusivity of people with food? Are you included in this?
Deborah: Okay, so how does she feel about food in the program?
Michael: Yes. And the inclusivity of people with food? And then does she feel included?
Deborah: Okay. Hold on.
Deborah: Well, the image I got back was her licking her lips. But she says, “No. Nobody ever offered her anything.”
Michael: Right. That’s true. We’ll have to do a dog food event.
Deborah: Well, yeah, if her diet is strictly limited and you can still use what is her normal diet and work with it that way.
Michael: Yeah. I think it’s very possible. It’s ripe for a collaborative figuring out between her and I.
Michael: I did realize one of my partners was going to be on the call and couldn’t, but was curious about this question. The question that she has for Matoska is how my energetic and emotional state affects her.
Deborah: Oh, gotcha. Hold on.
Deborah: She says, “You get prickly when you’re angry. And you’re hard to soothe.” But she wants you to soak in her calmness and her soothing presence, when you’re upset or angry. She also said, “He’s mostly pretty even keeled.”
Michael: That’s true, but sometimes there’s times. Excellent.
Deborah: So, now you know. When you’re angry or frustrated or whatever, how she perceives you as being prickly.
Michael: Prickly. Well, I’ll have to get my calm on. She’s pretty calm, unless she’s being really excited. So, that’s all of my questions.
Deborah: Okay. So, I’ll close with Matoska and thank her for talking to me, and ask her if she has any messages for you.
Deborah: She said, “I love our life.” She feels extremely lucky to have such a wonderful life with you, and to be taken as many places and have as many different experiences that she has had. She really loves her life. And she would like you to absorb more of her calm in your life. And just recognize her, the calming presence that she brings to your life, that you should be more aware of that and more cognizant of it and take more advantage of that.
Michael: Excellent. Tell her I appreciate the message.
Deborah: She knows!
The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a bi-annual publication dedicated to supporting, documenting, and contextualizing socially engaged art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal focuses on a different theme in order to take a deep look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions, and the public. The Journal seeks to support writing and web based projects that offer documentation, critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.
The SoFA Journal is published in print and PDF form twice a year, in June and December by the PSU Art & Social Practice Program. In addition to the print publication, the Journal hosts an online platform for ongoing projects.
Sponsored by the Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program