CIP – Curators Interview Project

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Stepanian, Alysse

Alysse Stepanian
Iranian media artist and curator

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biography

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Interview: 10 questions

1. When did you start curating? Tell me something about your educational background, why you are curating.

My academic training was in painting. I have a Masters of Fine Arts Degree and have taught Fine Arts courses at the university level in Los Angeles. In the 1980’s I studied performance art with Rachel Rosenthal. Since 1996 I’ve been creating videos, multimedia performances and installations. For the past year I have been working on a series of 2-channel videos, with a cast and crew of nearly forty people, related to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and my dream journal from that period, after I left Iran.

The first show I curated was in 1996, at my studio in Factory Place, in downtown Los Angeles. At that time I participated in monthly open studios. While my paintings had gained a fair amount of attention, I felt a need to move away from that medium. In 1997, after moving to New York City, my interest in video grew and I also began to create multimedia performances. Later I collaborated with my husband, composer and artist, Philip Mantione, on large scale multimedia installations under the name BOX 1035 (http://www.box1035.com).

When we first moved to New York City, Philip and I felt that it was important to bring artists from different mediums together, and encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations. As a result, along with composer James Marentic, we started MANY (Musicians & Artists in New York), a nonprofit multimedia arts producing and presenting organization. Within its first two years of inception, I co-curated and co-produced five multimedia festivals that included experimental video, performance art, music, and dance by forty five international artists.

After living in Santa Fe for one year, I launched Manipulated Image, motivated by a need to fill the void for regular screenings of contemporary experimental work from around the globe.

With Manipulated Image, it took me a while to accept that I was taking on the role of a curator. I was aware of its importance, and shy about adopting the title. The first show was not curated. I wanted to begin by presenting mostly local artists and a variety of work. My initial intention was to have informal meetings for sharing ideas in contemporary developments in video and related technology. I finally realized that I had to accept my responsibility as a curator.

2. What is the artistic field of your curatorial practice? Are you active in curating more than one artistic field (painting, installation, video, etc.)? If yes, tell me more.

Currently I curate video screenings only (please see curatorial plans for the future, below).

3. Do you think there are common guidelines and criteria for curating all fields of contemporary art? or are there rather individual guidelines and criteria for each field?
Tell me more about these criteria in the field you are active in.

I wouldn’t say that there are guidelines for curating, as I wouldn’t know of any guidelines for creating a work of art. However, a curator must always be aware that the context within which a work is presented could enhance, change, or bend the meaning of the work. I also think that it is important to pay attention to the work that others are doing in the field. Realistically speaking, there is so much information out there that it is impossible to retain more than a fraction of it. Curation is not my main area of interest; I consider myself an artist above anything else. An artist may have a different approach to curation, which could offer its own advantages and disadvantages.

I try to select work not on the basis of my personal tastes or preferred genres, but based on how relevant the work seems in relation to the current times, and/or in the context of each screening.

4. Do you think, the new and digital media used in contemporary art brought new aspects in art and its curating? If yes, tell me more about these aspects, if no why?

As McLuhan warned us, the new digital media has changed our lives, perceptions, social organizations, and the speed with which we make choices and interact, in deep, profound, yet mostly unconscious ways.

Contemporary curators and artists have access to a large range of tools, and need to deal with very dense layers of meaning. At the most basic and visible level we have been presented with a whole new world of possibilities. Curators and artists alike are encouraged or even feel pressured to take on cross-disciplinary approaches. Venues such as Second Life make presentation of ambitious, large scale installations and filming of movies possible, affordable, and accessible.

In Second Life’s Odyssey, where illusion and reality coincide more than anywhere else, there is a wonderful sculpture of Jean Baudrillard , the philosopher who talked about “simulacrum” as the “hyperreal” rather than the copy of the real. He is bound in chains, an inflated balloon, floating in limbo in the simulacrum of the Second Life that has become more real than the real itself. (“Jean Baudrillard brought to Second Life” by Ester Dreier and Lamb Lamont, texts by Matteo Bittanti)

I think that it is important for both artists and curators to be aware not only of new technological possibilities in the arts, but also of the pitfalls and the seduction of novelty. It seems that most work created at the advent of new technological inventions has difficulty in going beyond the immediate technical capabilities of the medium itself.

5. Do you think a curator should have any technological knowledge and skills concerning the field of contemporary art he is active in?

I think that it is definitely an advantage for a curator to have related technical skills and knowledge, to better understand the work. While artist curators have this advantage, their disadvantage is that they spend the majority of their time on creating their own work, rather than conducting scholarly research on subjects of their curation.

6. Is there a difference in curating paintings, videos, interactive works or a piece of net art using Java technology? if yes, what’s the difference? if no, why?

I think that the basic process is the same: having a lucid understanding of the medium, its history, and current practices.

7. Do think a curator active in the field of time based art should be aware of the aspects of time, which means consequently preserving the artistic result?

As an artist myself, I’ve had great difficulties with this issue. I’ve lost quality in my early videos when I had to change software and computer systems. I think that above all, it is the artist’s responsibility to preserve his on her own work, if preservation of the work matches with their philosophic approach. So I think that artists who value their work, or see their work as permanent and non-ephemeral, do pay attention to preservation factors and make their own attempts toward this goal.

Manipulated Image does not own the work or the rights to the work that it screens, and it does not have exclusive representation contracts with any of the artists. It also is not a video data bank dedicated to preserving and/or archiving work. When I first launched MI, one of my goals was to create a video library, and we had discussed digitizing the videos to have available on a dedicated server at the Complex, which would have allowed us the possibility to change format in the future.

At this point in time, Manipulated Image does not have the resources for preserving or archiving videos that it presents, and the program runs on zero budget. All this being said, I haven’t given up on the idea of preserving the history of work that MI presents.

8. In times of “You Tube” and the Internet, do you think a curator is needed, yet, at all in the new fields of art, while everybody is actively curating oneself in a DIY manner?

I myself find most of the work that I screen, online. To me, uploading one’s work on YouTube or Vimeo is not an act of curation, but promotion, although curation is always a possibility. An artist creates work in order to share it, and these online venues allow access to one’s work. Looking through Vimeo for instance, one would spend a lot of time on finding work that’s relevant. Curators gather work to present in the best meaningful way, and within specific contexts. VideoChannel and similar programs provide excellent opportunities for artists, since their works are presented in a cohesive and meaningful way, and are made accessible to a very large and varied audience.

My personal problem with curation is that it does have a tendency to create the impression that a work has no validity without official selections for screenings. So I’m happy and thankful also for YouTube, Vimeo, and similar venues that give some voice to every creative work.

9. What is the future of professional curating from your point of view, generally, and in special new media contents or the field you are active in?

Technology expands quickly and artists and curators need to be reasonably aware of these changes, in order to make better curatorial or artistic decisions. Since works have become multimedia and have crossed disciplines, curators need to have a larger body of knowledge. It may be that for certain new media, the best curators will prove to be the creators of the works, mainly because of the complicated technical expertise required for a deeper understanding of the work.

10. What are your curatorial plans for the future? What are your personal wishes, hopes and perspectives in curating?

During the first year of its existence, Manipulated Image has operated on zero budget, with in-kind contributions of time by myself and the generous support of the Santa Fe Complex by providing venue, equipment, and support, as well as the generosity of all the participating artists. My first hope is to secure funding to not only continue this program, but to obtain the infrastructure for expanding it to include the presentation of multichannel video installations, and immersive interactive environments with projection mapping.

I see MI as a global endeavor, not restricted to one location or presentation format, and I look forward to more global curatorial collaborations and exhibition venues, such as this one. I thank you for providing this opportunity to curate “memory” and “identity” and to share MI’s perspective with a much larger audience.

My personal wish is that what I’ve started will help enhance the excitement that artists feel in the creation and presentation of their work, in a spirit of camaraderie, collaboration, and discovery. I also hope that it will be a positive force in expanding the awareness of the public to the possibilities of video as a creative medium, and their appreciation and better understanding of it.

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LIST OF CURATED EXHIBITIONS BY ALYSSE STEPANIAN (AND URLs):

Manipulated Image at the Santa Fe Complex, USA
Since February 27, 2009:

During the first nine scheduled events from its inception to December of 2009, the works of thirty-six artists from five continents have been screened, and sixteen artists have discussed their work. Two of these programs presented live cinema performance. In April of 2009, in a two hour special program, Steina and Woody Vasulka made a historic presentation of the pioneers of video art from the Vasulka Archives.

For more more information on past and future shows, see:
http://manipulatedimage.com/

MI Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=190010663326&ref=mf

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COMING UP:
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Friday, January 29, 2009; 7pm – 9pm
Manipulated Image #10: “Exquisite Corpse Video Project Vol.1”

Project coordinator: filmmaker, Kika Nicolela of Brazil
A collection of unique video collaborations by 36 artists from 16 countries
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Friday, February 26, 2010; 7pm – 11pm
Manipulated Image #11: First Year Anniversary
“For Action’s Sake”

In cooperation with VideoChannel
NewMediaFest’2010: 10 Years [NewMediaArtProjectNetwork]:||cologne
Co-curated by Wilfried Agricola de Cologne & Alysse Stepanian
Experimental short videos from around the globe
Participating artists: to be announced

[NewMediaArtProjectNetwork]:||cologne –http://www.nmartproject.net
VideoChannel –http://videochannel.newmediafest.org
NewMediafest’2010 –http://2010.newmediafest.org
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Friday, April 2, 2010; 7:30pm – 9:30pm
Manipulated Image #12: “memory” and “identity”
Offline screening @ the Complex
In cooperation with VideoChannel (Online screening to be launched in April 2010)
NewMediaFest’2010: 10 Years [NewMediaArtProjectNetwork]:||cologne
Curated by Alysse Stepanian
Experimental short videos from the US
Participating artists: to be announced

NewMediaArtProjectNetwork]:||cologne –http://www.nmartproject.net
VideoChannel –http://videochannel.newmediafest.org
NewMediafest’2010 –http://2010.newmediafest.org
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2009 SCREENINGS:
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Friday, December 18, at 7:00pm
Manipulated Image #9: GUTTURAL!
Wilfried Agricola deCologne (Germany), Niclas Hallberg (Sweden), Paulo R. C. Barros (Brazil), Hey-Yeun Jang (New York City), with presentation and discussion by Martin Back (Santa Fe, USA)
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Friday, October 30, at 7:30pm
Manipulated Image #8: The Moving Still
Kika Nicolela (Brazil), Kriss Salmanis (Latvia), with presentation and discussion by James Coker (Albuquerque, USA)
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Friday, August 28, at 8:30pm
Manipulated Image #7: Work from Four Continents and Virtual Second Life

Indie-animation, mobile videos, and experimental motion by Russian collective: Selfburning, videos and interactive Flash web art by Kelly Monico (Metropolitan State College of Denver, Colorado, USA), Mohamed Ezoubeiri (Morocco), Fabio Scacchioli (Rome, Italy), with presentation by Andrew Edwards (Santa Fe, USA), and a virtual tour of Second Life
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Friday, July 24, at 8:30pm
Manipulated Image #6: The Whole Truth, the Space in Between, and Chopping Heads…
Scott Pagano (Los Angeles, USA), Yuko Takemura (London), Gerald Guthrie (University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, USA), With special presentation and discussion by Keep Adding’s Brian Bixby (Santa Fe, NM, USA)
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Friday, June 26, at 8:30pm
Manipulated Image #5:
Live performance by new media artist and VJ, Peter Rand (Albuquerque, USA) with composer Paul Rudy (University of Missouri at Kansas City, USA), and videos by Dennis H. Miller (Northeastern University in Boston, USA), Donald O’Finn (New York City)
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Friday, May 29, at 8:00pm
Manipulated Image #4:
Live cinema performance, experimental videos, and discussion with Potter-Belmar Labs: Leslie Raymond and Jason Jay Stevens (San Antonio, Texas, USA)
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Friday, April 24, at 8:00pm
Manipulated Image #3:
Presentation by the pioneers of video art, Steina and Woody Vasulka, of historical video art from the Vasulka Archives
(Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA)
_________

Friday, March 27, 2009
Manipulated Image #2:
Benton C. Bainbridge (New York City), Matt Marello (New York City), with presentations and discussions by Susanna Carlisle (Santa Fe), and David Stout and Cory Metcalf (Santa Fe)
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Friday, February 27, 2009
Manipulated Image #1:
Verena Grimm (Berlin, Germany), Potter-Belmar Labs (San Antonio, Texas, USA), Merrill Kazanjian (New York), with discussions by Ethan Bach (Santa Fe), Anne Farrell (Santa Fe), and Flame Schon (Santa Fe)

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MANY (Musicians & Artists in New York):
http://alyssestepanian.com/MANY/MANY.html
1998 – 1999, New York City

In 1997 Co-founded MANY in New York City, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit multimedia arts producing and presenting organization. Stepanian co-curated and co-produced five multimedia festivals that included experimental video, performance art, music, and dance by forty five international artists.

In an interview for NYFA’s Quarterly magazine in Fall of 1999, William R. Kaizen of the New York Foundation for the Arts (http://www.nyfa.org/archive_detail_q.asp?type=4&qid=92&fid=1&year=1999&s=Fall ) wrote about MANY.

1999:
– OnetoMANYthree two-day festival by MANY; Dixon Place, New York City

1998:
– TwoMANYtwo two-day festival by MANY; DCTV, New York City

– OneMANY event by MANY; Greenwich House, Hayden Auditorium, New York City

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Factory Place, Los Angeles, California:

1996:
– The Hatchery: a multimedia installation curated by Stepanian, at her studio at Factory Place in downtown, Los Angeles, involving six artists.

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ABOUT MANIPULATED IMAGE
by Alysse Stepanian
Multimedia and video artist, curator of Manipulated Image
November 2009

HISTORY OF MANIPULATED IMAGE

In February of 2009, Alysse Stepanian launched Manipulated Image with the support of the Santa Fe Complex, a young and progressive organization founded by scientists, technologists, and artists. Manipulated Image has been a pioneering program in bringing a global community of experimental video artists to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the US. It has increased worldwide opportunities for local artists by giving wider exposure to their work, and has provided a venue for artists from around the globe to have their work shown in the US.

Manipulated Image features short experimental videos by artists that explore the innovative use of technology and software to manipulate image. The online catalogue of past events includes artist statements, bios, images, and links to artist websites.

During the first nine scheduled events, the works of thirty-six artists from five continents have been screened, and sixteen guests artists have discussed the way they digitally transform images to achieve their personal vision. Two of these programs presented live cinema performance, and one took the audience on a tour of virtual art on Second Life. In a special MI program in April of 2009, pioneers of video art, Steina and Woody Vasulka, made a two hour historic presentation from the Vasulka Archives.

Past MI screenings have presented diverse work within contexts that have allowed fresh discoveries about the possibilities of video as a creative medium. For example, in the July 2009 screening, work presented ranged from experimental music videos to the philosophical questioning of the meaning of life. Los Angeles filmmaker and spatial reconstructionist, Scott Pagano’s work flowed into London-based artist, Yuko Takemura’s mysterious video tableaux, and Gerald Guthrie’s animations replete with technical mastery, humor, and philosophical depth. These works were connected with a sense of intensity deeply ingrained in each artist’s approach.

CURATORIAL MISSION AND PHILOSOPHY

In 1970, Gene Youngblood wrote: “When we say expanded cinema we actually mean expanded consciousness. Expanded cinema does not mean computer films, video phosphors, atomic light, or spherical projections. Expanded cinema isn’t a movie at all: like life it’s a process of becoming, man’s ongoing historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind, in front of his eyes…. When we’re enslaved to any system, the creative impulse is dulled and the tendency to imitate increases.” (Expanded Cinema, Pgs. 41-42)

Marshall McLuhan’s phrase,”the medium is the message” stated that the characteristics of the medium itself affects societal perceptions, organization, and interaction. The new digital media has changed our lives, ways of seeing, and the speed with which we make choices and interact, in deep, profound, yet mostly unconscious ways. McLuhan warned us of the dangers of global panic, if we fail to understand these new dynamics.

Access to video equipment and software has reached unprecedented levels. DVDs can be easily authored and shipped and URLs can be emailed. Numerous online video channels and social networking sites make global dissemination of video easier than ever before. At the most basic and visible level we have been presented with a whole new world of possibilities. Venues such as Second Life make presentation of ambitious, large scale installations and filming of movies possible, affordable, and accessible. Social networking gives an incredible amount of exposure to the work and the artist. Online video libraries allow curators access to work they would otherwise have no knowledge of.

Contemporary curators and artists have access to a large range of tools, and need to deal with very dense layers of meaning. They are also encouraged or maybe even pressured to take on cross-disciplinary approaches. But it is important to be aware not only of new technological possibilities in the arts, but also of the pitfalls and the seduction of novelty. It seems that most work created at the advent of new technological inventions has difficulty in going beyond the immediate technical capabilities of the medium itself.

Artists rearrange bits and pieces of experience and re-experience them anew, each time they engage in a creative act. Form is representation, as it reveals the truth of the present experience, orchestrated through the relationships between objects, ideas, marks, sounds, images, and events. Viewers are engaged by perceiving these relationships. The impact of a work of art results from the complex relationships between the present and the absent, the selected and discarded choices that an artist makes.

In a world in which values are in constant flux, what may be construed as non-truth, could also function as truth. As Nietzsche saw it, art is a lie that helps one cope with this world of relationships that is beyond truth or lies and subjective morality.

Heidegger writes, “The origin of the work of art – that is, the origin of both the creators and the preservers, which is to say of a people’s historical existence, is art. This is so because art is by nature an origin: a distinctive way in which truth comes into being, that is, becomes historical.” (Martin Heidegger, The Origin of the Work of Art, 1935-1960)

Manipulated Image provides a venue for artists with a unique voice, and seeks to compare and contrast current movements in contemporary video art. There are infinite approaches to video as a creative tool. With the jumble of voices out there, what remains important for an artist is the making of relevant work in a world cluttered with information.

It is the aim of Manipulated Image to present a body of work by each artist, in order to give a better understanding of the artist’s vision. Works of emerging artists are shown alongside the internationally known, with no regards to age, sex, religion, nationality, or economic status; it is the work itself that needs to speak, and art rises above petty human concerns.

MI presents diverse work in each screening, in order to expose audiences to the unfamiliar, to encourage reexamination what is understood as familiar, and to inspire fresh outlook towards the world. Letting go of one’s preconceived notions is a fundamental tool for understanding the motivational drives of social forces, and the emergence of innovative and constructive dialogues.

THE FUTURE OF MANIPULATED IMAGE

In less than a month on Facebook, Manipulated Image has attracted a large number of fans from around the globe. This encouraging sign is indicative not only of the success of this program, but of an unprecedented growing global need for venues that present contemporary experimental video.

Manipulated Image’s screenings have gradually become thematic, in an organic way. In October 2009 MI screening, The Moving Still included videos by three artists, whose approaches were vastly different, yet intrinsically photographic. Kika Nicolela’s cinematic videos were juxtaposed with Kriss Salmanis’s photo animations, and James Coker’s algorithmic experiments with moving images. GUTTURAL! is the title of the December 2009 screening, featuring artists whose work is physical, performative, or abstract, but raw and uninhibited. Parallels can be drawn between these works and postwar action paintings, performance, and video through the ‘70’s.

The first year anniversary show of February 2010, For Action’s Sake, considers the confluence of art and politics. Direct and indirect references are made to the role of mass media in the present, and its relationship to Machiavellian and Fascistic politics. A play on words, the title references “art for art’s sake,” the failure of Modernism to fulfill its promise of bringing social change, and the persecution of avant-garde artists by the Nazis and Stalin, as they bore the stigma of the “degenerate” and “unofficial.” For Action’s Sake contrasts autotelic individuals with those driven by external influences such as power and comfort, who in the end are left unfulfilled and alienated.

Manipulated Image has secured partnerships with international curators for online and offline screenings. MI envisions more international collaborations in the future. The first of these partnerships is a festival celebrating Manipulated Image’s first year anniversary in February of 2010. The event will be co-curated by Alysse Stepanian and Wilfried Agricola deCologne, in cooperation with VideoChannel, NewMediaFest’2010: 10 Years [NewMediaArtProjectNetwork]:||cologne. Also plans are in the works for a collaborative curation with Brazilian filmmaker, Kika Nicolela. Currently, shows are being programmed six months in advance.

We are currently seeking needed funds for infrastructure at the Complex that would support the presentations of multichannel video installations and projection mapping for immersive and interactive environments. Part of the Complex’s mission is to provide the leadership, scientific expertise, infrastructure and technological tools needed to support applied complexity science, and enhance artistic growth.

Thus far Manipulated Image has been operating on a zero budget, but has succeeded largely due to in-kind administrative and technical support, and free use of Complex’s screening venue and equipment. This program owes its existence to the generosity and openness of the participating artists, the regular support of the Complex, and the help of the following individuals at the Complex: Dena Aquilina, Susan Ashford, Don Begley, Stephen Guerin, Philip Mantione, Simon Mehalek. Also thanks to Tyler White and Ben Lichtner for past support.

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