Things I asked people who thought I was weird just because I have a pet potato

“A [creative] project is something someone sets their mind to and tries to finish, but then stops to eat cookies.”

– Joanna Yien

In this interview—conducted in the Spring of 2021—I sat down with Joanna Yien to discuss our collaboration for a project tentatively titled Things I asked people who thought I was weird just because I have a pet potato. Joanna and I previously worked together through the RECESS! Design Studio—a design class and artist project that I co-direct with Kim Sutherland in collaboration with the King School Museum of Contemporary Art, housed inside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School, an elementary school in Northeast Portland. Our projects together include Home Museum, where we named, branded, created and curated collections for museums in our own homes, and What’s Up With My Block?, where we designed maps for the street we each live on, based on our personal experiences of our neighborhoods. 

For her $100 commission, Joanna interviews people about their feelings towards the relationship she has with her pet potato. The interviews will be published in book form, as a limited print edition. A portion of the budget has been reserved for ice cream. In the conversation, we discuss the value of money, strategies for making successful projects, and her pet potato, Potato.

Jordan Rosenblum: Hi, Joanna. I’d like to start by asking you what you thought when your dad told you that I was interested in collaborating with you on a new project, where we had a $100 budget that needed to be spent.

Joanna Yien: I thought—“Oh, man, monnnnnneyyyy.”

Jordan: And, after that?

Joanna: My next thought was “Oh, man, monnnnnneyyyy.”

Jordan: Ok, what was your first thought after money?

Joanna: I then started thinking about my pet potato, and how I hadn’t fed it yet today.

Jordan:  Your pet potato is clearly taking up a lot of your mental space. Let’s forget about the project for a second. If you were just given $100 and you could just do whatever you wanted with it, what would you do?

Joanna Yien’s pet potato, Potato. Photo courtesy Joanna Yien.

Joanna: So, I wouldn’t have to create a project? I would just waste it on things.

I would get some potatoes. Did I mention I’m really into potatoes right now?

Jordan: Yes, you certainly have.

Joanna: After getting more potatoes, I would probably spend the rest of it on food. Maybe on pastries.

Jordan:  Would you spend it all in one go?

Joanna: No, because then they wouldn’t be fresh.

Jordan: That’s smart. I love pastries, and if I bought that many at once, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop eating them.

Joanna: Yeah, I would probably actually eat them all at once.

Jordan: I respect that. So, we keep using the word “project,” and I’m curious about what that means to you. How would you define a project?

Joanna: A project is something someone sets their mind to and tries to finish, but then stops to eat cookies. But, eventually they start working on it again. Having a project involves having a goal in mind.

Jordan: So if your potato was a project, what would the finishing of that project be?

Joanna: I need to be quiet so Potato doesn’t hear. [In a hushed tone] I would make mashed potatoes.

Jordan: [In a shocked, hushed tone] Joanna!

Joanna: Just kidding! I would let it get all big and healthy. I would let it just do its thing.

Joanna Yien and Jordan Rosenblum on a work call, May 2021. Joanna introduces Jordan to her pet potato, Potato. 

Jordan:  How lovely.

I want to talk a little more about your definition of a project, which I really like. You mentioned cookie breaks that can get in the way of finishing projects. For me, it’s ice cream breaks.

The issue for me is that after I’ve eaten ice cream, I don’t want to do any more work, and I just want to watch TV.

Joanna: Exactly. That’s why I often don’t finish projects.

Jordan:  Believe you me, you are not alone there. It’s a big reason why I work with other people on projects. Sometimes the only way I can get anything done is to have someone that I have to make things with.

Joanna: If we do a project, I’m going to prevent you from eating ice cream.

I need to tell you though, I just ate ice cream.

Jordan:  I’m jealous. What kind?

Joanna: Ah, well it’s kind of a story. Would you like to hear an ice cream story?

Jordan: Please.

Joanna: Three years ago I went to my friend Marina’s house, and when I was leaving, she said her family was going to get Phish Food, and I had no idea what they meant.

Jordan: Oh yeah, the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor! That would have been confusing to me, too.

Joanna: Well, I had never seen the flavor in any stores until three days ago. So, we bought some, and that’s what I just ate. It’s delicious.

Jordan:  Well, I guess the real question for us to think about for the project is, “How much of the $100 do we want to save for Phish Food?”

Joanna: I already have an answer—$50.

Jordan:  Great. Well, it sounds like our project will require tons of ice cream breaks. Before we turn off the recorder, is there anything else you’d like to state for the interview, before we say goodbye?

Joanna: Potatoes are awesome. Purple potatoes are even better.

Jordan: Well, Joanna, this was a pleasure as always. Thank you for taking the time to talk.

Joanna: You’re welcome! Please thank Potato, too.

Jordan: Thanks, Potato—until next time.

Jordan Rosenblum (he/him) works as a socially engaged artist, designer, and educator. His projects include workshops, installations, and publications. He teaches at Portland State University, works as a visual designer, and co-directs the RECESS! Design Studio (in affiliation with the King School Museum of Contemporary Art)—an artist project that explores the power of design with elementary school students. He received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA from Portland State University’s Art and Social Practice program.

Joanna Yien (she/her) is a student at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. Here are some weird facts about her: Joanna has a pet potato named Potato, her foot can touch her head, and Joanna sometimes randomly does the splits… who is she kidding—she does it everywhere.

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.

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