Interview with Alysse Stepanian

Interview by Saba Okhovat

With Alysse Stepanian

June 2014

 

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Alysse Stepanian is a Transmedia artist, curator, and "animal" advocate. Alysse Stepanian was born in Iran and currently lives in Southern California. She is a Master of Fine Arts graduate in painting.her creative career began as a painter and she has been making videos since 1997.her work is socially and politically engaged. Her videos, installations, paintings, photographs, web art, performances and curations have been presented in over300 shows in 45 countries.

She was also one of the jury for first “video artist” festival and is currently a member of “Video artist website."
I had a pleasurable interview with Stepanian about her concerns, activities and ideas related to video art area:

 

 

1. Could you please tell me about your activities and concerns?

 

 It seems natural to me to work across disciplines and categorizations that separate the arts and distance art from life. Often my concerns and activities as an artist, curator and “animal” rights advocate coincide, perhaps because of an interest in finding the relationships underlying concepts and occurrences. In my work, rather than telling stories or referencing the medium itself, I am interested in laying bare the motivations and states of human consciousness that sustain the structured social forces.

Over the years I have come to understand the direct correspondence between human rights issues and the way we treat other animals. URBAN RANCH PROJECT is a virtual gallery on Facebook that I launched in 2012, using the power of social media to bring awareness to the interconnectedness of human-made hierarchical prejudices, such as racism, sexism and speciesism.

 Since 1986 I have worked extensively with my life partner, composer and sound artist Philip Mantione, on multimedia performances, installations and videos. In 2006 we began collaborating as BOX 1035, the name derived from our post office box address in New York, which denotes our interest in transience and change. Our work makes social, political and psychological references and many of them have brought attention to post-911 politics of fear.

 In February of 2009 I founded Manipulated Image, an independent curatorial project that presents videoart and multimedia events, with local and international collaborations.

 

2. What is the specific relationship between you and video art?

Since 1997 my videos have evolved with the medium itself, as it transitioned to digital. Before working as a video artist, I considered myself a studio painter. While I cannot deny the potential power of a painting or other traditional media, I do prefer the fluidity and accessibility of digital art and its cross-disciplinary collaborative possibilities. I especially enjoy the freedom from object making offered by digital media and its softer environmental impact.

 

3. As a curator, what is your personal explanation about curating Iranian women’s video art?

I have co-curated an exhibition of videoart by 19 Iranian women, in collaboration with Tehran-based Neda Darzi of Persbook Art. “Nietzsche Was A Man” (1) spotlights human prejudices and some of the consequences of the uneven distribution of power in patriarchal societies. My goal is to bring attention to the tied oppressions of human and nonhuman animals, and the injustices around the world that go unnoticed due to ignorance, stifled human compassion, vested interests and broken legal systems. On a personal level, collaborating with Iranian women has led me to reconnect with my past and face many unresolved issues.

(1). “A” is intentionally capitalized.

 

4. Concerning your exhibition that included Iranian women’s artworks, what are the reflections and reactions of artists of other nationality?

I have had conversations with artists and audiences in Sweden and Mexico City when I visited for lecture presentations. People in general seem curious and pleasantly surprised to find an abundance of female power and great work by women who have traditionally been typecast in condescending ways.

 

5. Being a curator for Iranian artworks, do you personally see a difference between Iranian women’s art in comparison with others?

Many artists uprooted from their home countries deal with issues of identity and exile, as is the case with most of the videos in “Nietzsche Was A Man”. Referencing the name of a Western philosopher in this exhibition brings attention to the global nature of the problems that these Iranian women address. These works may seem culture-specific, because concerns raised are derived from direct personal experiences and many of the artists perform in their own work. Neda and I chose work that fit the theme of our curation, yet there are Iranian female artists whose approaches and interests are vastly different, and whose works do not provide clues to their cultural identity.

 

6. What is your definition of the relationship between art economy and video art? Is that a crucial point?

Video art has been around for a long time, yet many viewers find it unfamiliar, unnerving and difficult to comprehend. As a result, many collectors and art dealers wonder about its marketability. However, that does not deter myself, or the artists that I know and have worked with. Like anyone else, most video artists would like monetary compensation for their work, but in a larger context, I think that art is a form of mental consumption and I don’t view it in terms of its capitalistic utilitarian value. I am interested in the creative power of amplifying human consciousness, regardless of whether or not money could be made while doing it.

 

7. As you know, we unfortunately do not have the academic opportunities in Iran to study these forms of art in universities, so we do it experimentally. What do you think about this condition? Does it play an important role in our artistic outcome?

I respect the idea of experimentation and I think that many artists have problems with this word, due to academic training that pushes specialization and professionalism. Art is about change and movement and change does not happen without experimentation. I also think that working under limiting conditions encourages resourcefulness and innovation. With basic curiosity, interest and the need to investigate, there are many ways to acquire skills and knowledge. In my teaching practices I remind my students that cultivation happens in the independent mind, via self-learning.

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Alysse Stepanian websites:

www.alyssestepanian.com

www.manipulatedimage.com