Sophie Chahinian started her career in film as an actor, but over the years has moved to the other side of the camera. Now, she runs The Artist Profile Archive, an in-depth resource filled with interviews with some of the world’s most important artists. Her work gives viewers an insight into the processes, ideas and lives of artists, and has featured stars like Chuck Close, Dan Graham, Robert Longo and Shirin Neshat. Here, she tells us about her relationships with these creative forces, and why documentary filmmaking is so important in contemporary art.
First of all, what is The Artist Profile Archive? What is it, what does it do?
The Artist Profile Archive is a uniquely curated video archive of contemporary artist profiles, wherein artists talk about their work in their own words, usually in their own studios. Additionally, the website offers multimedia content featuring exhibition photos, audio clips, biographies, as well as a glimpse of what goes on behind-the-scenes. As a production company, we offer filmmaking services for artists, galleries, museums and collectors.
How did you end up in film making?
I started in film as an actor and producer. I didn't realize it at the time, but my various experiences in film ended up being on-the-job training for becoming a filmmaker myself. When I completed my master's degree in contemporary art, I combined my two areas of interest.
Why focus on art documentaries rather than any other film discipline?
Art is something I believe in that has enriched my life immeasurably. Yet somehow many people feel that art is esoteric or that they don't get it or that it's not for them. Our objective at The Artist Profile Archive is to make contemporary art more understandable and accessible to anyone curious about it. Having the artists speak about their own work and personal journeys to becoming artists allows the audience to make a human connection and this adds to the experience of art and exhibitions.
The Artist Profile Archive’s artist films are short, accessible and freely available - do you feel like you’re providing a service, a way of getting people interested in art?
We are definitely providing an educational service with easily digestible content that also has a consistent production value.
How important as the internet been to building your brand?
I don't know if I would be doing this without the internet! The internet has given The Artist Profile Archive a place to live where others can enjoy.
Where does your own interest in art come from?
My interest in art was a solid appreciation of the Impressionists until I sat next to Light and Space artist, the late Eric Orr, on a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I started working for him thereafter and in my capacity as his studio manager I was able to meet a lot of the artists who were living and working in Venice, CA. This opened up my eyes to contemporary art and the excitement of being able to experience art that is made by a living artist. I wanted others to also have access to that singular experience of hearing artists speak extemporaneously about their work and thus The Artist Profile Archive was born.
How do you choose who to work with?
When we accept a commission to make artist profile films for museums, galleries or artists, we include these films in the archive. When we are not commissioned, I select artists of critical significance who our audience would appreciate hearing from; we also have some lesser-known artists I've discovered whose work has inspired me when I have seen it in person and wondered who the artist behind it was.
Do any of the artists you’ve worked with hold a special place in your heart? Is there a standout film you’ve produced that means a lot to you ?
It was a tremendous privilege to be invited by Shirin Neshat to create a behind-the-scenes documentary during her filming of the Land of Dreams video installations. Going on location to New Mexico and being able to spend many days with her and her amazing film team was a fantastic learning experience, and the film that we made has been well received every time it has been shown. Even better is that Shirin and her partner Shoja Azari both loved how it turned out, and they have become dear friends.
Do you yourself collect art?
I have started collecting art. I wasn't planning to collect mostly female artists, but as it turns out, some of my favorite pieces are by women, including Carol Peligian, Farida El Gazzar, Letha Wilson, Sheree Hovsepian and Kelsey Henderson.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into your industry?
Documentary filmmaking requires patience and dedication, which means a huge investment of time, so be prepared!
Finally, what do you see as the future for the kind of art films you produce?
When I initially started making these films, I felt that I had to convince people that videos need to be on artist, gallery and museum websites. Now I don't have to. These films are appreciated as a valuable source of education, inspiration and celebration of contemporary art and the artists who make it. As we add more profiles to The Artist Profile Archive, the collection as a whole will come to have deeper meaning as a historical record over time.