VIP - VideoChannel Interview Project

Stepanian, Alysse

Alysse Stepanian
Iranian artist



Interview:10 questions

1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background.

I was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1961. After the Iranian Revolution I left the country in 1979. When I lived in Los Angeles, I earned a Masters in Fine Arts Degree in Painting. In 1997, after moving to New York City, I began doing multi-media work that crossed disciplines. I have worked with composer Philip Mantione on several projects, including installations, under the name BOX 1035.

2. When, how and why started you filming?

In Los Angeles I felt the need to try mediums other than painting. After working three-dimensionally for a period, I experimented with video. In 1997 I was faced with work space limitations in New York City, which pushed me to focus on multimedia performances and videos.

3. What kind of subjects have your films?

My early videos were performative and physically daring and challenging. In a 1998 piece I deprived myself of sleep for 72 hours, while recording certain activities on camera. This video, along with another one titled “eggpoem,” a collaboration with Philip Mantione, are currently on view at the Abington Art Center (USA), in a show titled “Endurance: Daring Feats of Risk, Survival and Perseverance.”

Some of my earlier videos blurred the boundary between fact and fiction. In one, inspired by the theatricality of a wedding ceremony, I invited the bride and groom to participate in a performance that was broadcast live on a local TV channel in Manhattan. They performed as themselves, in fictionalized settings, combined with footage from their wedding. This work was a philosophical inquiry into the definition of the “real.”

At first I just wanted the most basic portable camcorder that I would carry with me on road trips, sometimes passing it to friends around the table, asking them to talk into it. I would create on the spot videos that were inspired by location and real people. For years I had been thinking about making a film based on my dreams that had to do with the Iranian Revolution. This year I finally found that opportunity. This work deals with the issue of identity, among other things.

4. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?

Sometimes a visual image instigates a concept, other times the opposite. I think that I can not help but bring my personal artistic sensibilities into any medium that I work with. So far I’ve written, produced, directed, and edited all my videos. When working with a cast and crew, it is important to have all the logistical details planned in advance, in order to leave room for experimentation during production.

5. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.

For “Roghieh” and for a new film of the same series, called “What is My Name, Sister?” I used the Sony HVR-Z1U HDV. I also used a variety of professional lighting equipment and a Fisher Dolly. For post I currently use Final Cut Studio 2. For videos that I plan on modifying with image manipulation software like the ImX, I use my DV cameras, such as the Panasonic DVX100.

6. What are the chances of new media for the genre film/video in general and you personally?

I think that film/video offer opportunities for creative situations that haven’t been fully explored yet. That combined with the opportunities on the web, provide endless ways in which moving image could satisfy the needs of an artist, myself included.

7. How do you finance your films?

I finance my films myself. I work with volunteer cast and crew, and have been fortunate for having received support from a local College regarding the use of equipment and space.

8. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team? if you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

Up until this year, I worked individually on my videos, which offered me freedom and flexibility. Working with a team can be very stressful, because each person becomes an important piece of an intricate puzzle. I am very grateful to the talented individuals who have invested time into my work, and who hopefully find something meaningful in what I do. I have had the privilege to work with a Director of Photography, Joe Bacharka, for three of my films so far. There is always the possibility for unexpected magic when working with a group of people. I hope to continue working in team situations, as well as completing individual projects.

9. Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?

My passion for the Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami’s “Taste of Cherry,” has inspired me to work on larger video projects that deal with my early memories of the Revolution. In 2006, I had a short encounter with Mr. Kiarostami in Barcelona, at the opening of his show at CCCB. I told him about “Conversations with Mr. Badii,” an unfinished 1999 video inspired by “Taste of Cherry.” I inserted myself in this film and changed the subtitles, as an attempt to change the story and keep the protagonist alive. Mr. Kiarostami was happy that I had found something positive in this movie.

Another film that has had a strong visual impact on me is Lars Von Trier’s “Medea.” I have also found inspiration in the Iranian artist, Shirin Neshat’s videos.

My husband and collaborator, Philip Mantione has written music and/or created sound design for all of my work thus far. His music inspires the rhythm of the videos to a great degree and plays a large part early on in the editing process. I have great respect for his work and artistic sensitivities, and have collaborated with him on multitude of projects, including videos, multimedia performances, and installations.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?

I hope to finish the series of shorts that “Roghieh” is a part of, under the umbrella title, “I’m Frustrated About Having to Wear My Father’s Large Clothes.” Since I started working on this series, I have also completed two experimental short videos with a lot of image manipulation, called “ImXCocteau,” and “FREY.” While I enjoy making more abstract work, I see my work headed more and more in the direction of “Roghieh.” I like to create beautiful, meaningful and thought provoking work that reflects contemporary society and culture, in non-traditional and fresh ways.

-Can works of yours be viewed online besides on VideoChannel? Where? List some links & resources

I have just recently begun to post video clips online, so there’s no more than four out there, but I’ll continue posting on my site, where you can also watch documentaries of multimedia installations:


My collaborative work, including multimedia installations with Philip Mantione (some under the name Box 1035: look for e-postcards project, with website and photos by myself):

My web art other than e-postcards:

Installation in Beijing:

2 installations in the USA: