A transcribed conversation isn’t always deeply revelatory, but it can be. In the participatory field of social practice, we honor the potency of dialogue and combined perspectives. If our art projects don’t take place in solitude, why should our research and creative inquiry? It’s only natural that conversation be a primary method; sometimes it’s even the artwork itself. For the socially engaged artist, conversation can be a hinge, a connector, a keystone, a debrief, a record. No matter what, it’s always a material.
In the Fall 2021 edition of Conversations on Everything for Social Forms of Art Journal, we share conversations using a traditional interview format, and approach the co-authored publication assignment as what I might call social practice praxis. As students in the PSU Art + Social Practice MFA program, we each come from different creative backgrounds and training, including: photography, design, dance, illustration, textiles, set design, publishing, curation, theater, herbalism, and cultural organizing. We find our way here because we’re drawn to the social component of our various disciplines, and we’re interested in spotlighting the parts of our artform that necessitate people, interactions, and collaborative contributions. We shift the focus from the picture (or the book or the play) to the process by which those things are made, and the people who work together to make them.
As a result of this shift, conversations become a significant and intentional medium for us all. “Social practice frames potentially ordinary or common actions such as dialogue and conversation,” first year student Luz Blumenfeld reflects. “It’s really helpful to understand that the things I do in my everyday life are a part of my work.”
That’s because a part of social practice praxis is formalizing what we’ve already been doing. Third year Shelbie Loomis offers, “Conversations and interviewing have been in the depths of my practice (existing in different forms, in different lives), but only recently, through reframing how I look at the act of conversation, did I realize how much…interviewing feeds my artform and practice.”
I relate to this as well. For years, I recorded conversations I had with friends and strangers, capturing the collectively-generated musings, theories, aimless chit chat, and impromptu laughs ping ponging between us to make sure they didn’t evaporate forever. The impulse was similar to taking a picture, and the result became an audio snapshot, which I could transcribe for my own amusement and/or re-perform as a script. Mostly, I put them on an obscure tumblr no one read, and assembled a semi-private album of memories that encapsulated the inherent value of people talking to each other. Many moons later, it’s thrilling to now have a framework to understand my instinct, integrate it into my art practice, and have the opportunity to channel it into a formal publication.
It led me to wonder how the practice of conversations and interviews is actively informing the broader work of my classmates. How has the practice of interviewing influenced their art making/thinking? In what ways are conversations valuable to their practice/s right now? How do they integrate the art of interviewing into their art practice? What did my colleagues find valuable in the process of conducting interviews for this issue?
For third year student Rebecca Copper, “an interview can open up space for exchange, to lean into an inquiry, to uncover, and to potentially understand. It’s a basis for questioning— questioning for curiosity.” That joint act of digging deeper together resonates with third year Mo Geiger, as well. “It’s a way of relating. Conversing is a trippy way to excavate something with another person.” Second year Laura Glazer agrees: “Having a conversation helps us figure out what we can do/make/explore together, and find shared points of curiosity and excitement.”
This exchange has the effect of expanding our practice and giving it artistic definition. “If conversation can be interview, material, medium,” Luz concludes, “it can also be research. And since I’m finding a lot of my practice to be research-based, it’s really helpful to understand that the things I do in my everyday life are a part of my work.”
For second year student Caryn Aasness, the interview gives structure to a familiar routine: “I think I’m always interviewing people, so it’s nice to formalize it. I always want to know what everyone is thinking and I love to try to convince them to think out loud. Or to work through on the spot something they have never really thought through before. Being sent into the world with ‘interview’ as an assignment really parallels the way I already thrust myself into the world with ‘interview’ as the imperative.”
The assemblage of these perspectives illuminates the utility of conversation as a tool for investigation, not only into our own subjects of interest, but into the importance of human-to-human exchange. In this issue, we hear from a scientist on his far reaching approach to mycology, a jazz professor on healing, a neighbor on her domestic art collection, a Ukranian immigrant on his transition to Portland, Oregon, the Bing Crosby Fan Club president on what it means to be invested, a librarian with a vision for collaborative learning, and much more. We hope you enjoy the material.
-Becca Kauffman, Editor
with contributions from Caryn Aasness, Luz Blumenfeld, Rebecca Copper, Mo Geiger, Laura Glazer, and Shelbie Loomis
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.
c/o PSU Art & Social Practice
PO Box 751
Portland, OR 97207
Sponsored by the Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program