In my first year of graduate school, I decided to just ask the questions I had, even if they embarrassed me or felt stupid. I realized it wasn’t helping me to stay quiet in the hopes that someone else would ask my questions first, or that a professor would happen to cover it. Now I find that I learn a lot by asking questions.
I work as a teacher at a preschool in Portland, and lately I’ve been attempting to conduct short interviews with my 3 to 5 year olds. In one recent interview, which happened during snack time, I talked to Ben, age 3, about his dreams.
Luz: Ben, can you tell me about a dream you had?
Ben: I had a really crazy dream.
Luz: Okay, tell me about it.
Ben: If I tell it to you, my other friends might hear it and think it might be, like, spooky.
Luz: Oh, was it a scary dream?
Ben: It wasn’t scary, it was kind of fun ‘cause I got to watch it in my brain.
I apologize to the readers because you never do get to hear the details of this crazy, spooky dream. Ben got distracted and inevitably, so did I.
I see my work as a preschool teacher as an extension of my art practice. As a socially engaged artist, I’m interested in the way conversation can be framed as a project or a piece of art. The conversations I have with 3 to 5 year olds at my work are sweet and weird, funny, but also often profound.
Our task for this issue of SoFA Journal was to speak with someone associated with Portland State University, so I decided to conduct a similar interview with some of my colleagues. I wanted the questions to be direct, but leave room for stories, as I have tried to do with my preschoolers. I asked my colleagues about karaoke, what was on their mind that they thought worth sharing, for something they recommend, and, as a bonus, a little show and tell.
Luz Blumenfeld: What is your current go-to karaoke song?
Olivia DelGandio: Karaoke makes me anxious and I will never do it.
Morgan Hornsby: My first and favorite karaoke performance was “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain, with my friend Jordan at a bar in her hometown.
Ashley Yang-Thompson: Phantom of the Opera. I don’t think there could possibly be a better karaoke song, but I’m willing to be proved wrong.
Marissa Perez: I don’t really do karaoke! Maybe I’ve done it twice? And the songs I chose were: Rockin’ Robin and I Can’t Make You Love Me. I think they were both bad options so if you have any good suggestions I’ll take them.
Caryn Aasness: I don’t really ever sing karaoke, I think I might be working my way up to it or maybe I’m just building up a list of songs I think would be fun but will never perform. On the current list of possible songs though, is, Tempted by Squeeze (I love any song that lists objects), I’m the Man by Joe Jackson (about a cartoonish conman, “I got the trash and you got the cash so baby we should get along fine”) and Too Busy Thinking About My Baby by Marvin Gaye which I listen to at least three times in a row every time I drive my car.
Luz: What is something you want to tell me about right now?
Olivia: My little brother had his first girlfriend (he’s in 11th grade) and he really liked her for like a week and my mom just told me he broke up with her because she wanted attention all the time. Last time I was home he told me he was thinking about having sex and he also drove me around a bunch. It’s such a wild thing to watch someone you love so much grow up and experience the world for the first time. It fills me with love and nostalgia.
Morgan: I just discovered the album Preacher’s Daughter by Ethel Cain and can’t stop listening. I also love the photos taken of her by Silken Weinberg.
Ash: When I was in the 8th grade, I had a habit of polling my classmates on various topics (How do you fall asleep at night? What kind of mental illness do you have?) (the latter question got me sent to the principal’s office) which I compiled into my first book ever called, “I’m normal and everybody else is crazy.” I was very excited about this project, so my AIM username was imnotcrazy93 and so was my YouTube account.
Marissa: I want to tell you about how much I love talking to friends on the phone. I just talked to two friends today and it made me feel so good. And then I listened to that song by Labi Siffre called “Bless the Telephone” and you know, he’s right.
Caryn: I want to tell you about this thing that happened when I was in elementary school that I think about a lot. I think I’d like to use it in a project somehow someday but mostly because I want an excuse to keep talking about it and figure out how to best get the peculiarity across.
At the audition for the Helen Keller Elementary School talent show, about 2004, 2 girls showed up and sang I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world somewhat unenthusiastically but in relative unison and a cappella. The PTA mom running the show told them they needed a backing track, a CD to sing along with. The next rehearsal they brought a CD with the song but it had the words so the PTA mom tried to explain to the confused 2nd or 3rd graders that the CD needed to have the instruments but no one singing. That must have been the last conversation they had about it because on the night of the talent show the girls sang with the same intensity and lack of enthusiasm to what must have been the only CD they could find in somebody’s dad’s collection that seemed to fit the requirements: I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world backed up by completely unrelated instrumental smooth jazz.
Luz: What do you recommend?
Olivia: Annie’s white cheddar mac and cheese. I shouldn’t eat it because it makes my stomach hurt but it’s so good and it is a major safe food at the moment. You don’t pick the safe food, the safe food chooses you, right?
Morgan: I recommend writing letters to people you love.
Ash: I recommend being wrong about your most deeply ingrained beliefs.
Marissa: Charli XCX. She’s great. I’ve been listening to a couple of her albums since the summer.
Caryn: I recommend asking this exact question! People give great answers.
I also recommend asking people what their favorite question to ask other people is, and then asking their favorite question back to them.
I also recommend tying your shoes in a nontraditional way, eating Cheerios and goldfish mixed together as a snack, wearing a short sleeve t shirt over a long sleeve t shirt to please your inner child, getting audiobooks from the public library, and the documentary Dogtown and Z-boys.
Luz: And, lastly, the optional bonus: Show & Tell, which is something my preschoolers do every week. Their favorite question to ask each other about the shared object is, “What do you like about it?”
It’s a groundhog made out of rice krispies that I saw at the Groundhog Day party Marissa brought me to last weekend. I love thinking about the time and energy someone put into making this.
Luz Blumenfeld (they/them) is a transdisciplinary socially engaged artist. Third generation from Oakland, California, they currently live and work in Portland, Oregon. Their practice involves teaching, listening, observing, and taking notes. Luz is in their second year of PSU’s Art & Social Practice MFA program. You can view their work on their website and their Instagram.
Olivia DelGandio (she/they) is a storyteller who asks intimate questions and normalizes answers in the form of ongoing conversations. They explore grief, memory, and human connection and look for ways of memorializing moments and relationships. Through their work, they hope to make the world a more tender place.
Morgan Hornsby (she/her) is a photographer and socially engaged artist. She was born in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky and currently lives in Tennessee. Her photographic work has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, NPR, Vox, The Guardian, New York Magazine, and The Marshall Project.
Ashley Yang-Thompson is a ninety-nine time Pulitzer Prize winning poet and a certified MacArthur genius.
Marissa Perez (she/her) grew up in Portland, Oregon. She is a printmaker, party host, babysitter and youth worker. She’s interested in neighborhoods and the layers of relationships that can be hard to see. Her dad was a mail carrier for 30 years and her mom is a pharmacist.
Caryn Aasness (they/them) is an artist living in Portland Oregon. They love asking and answering questions. You can find more of their work here.
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.
Sponsored by the Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program