Sophie Chahinian can easily relate to many of the artists she profiles.
Specifically, the creative process and its tendency to drudge up the fear of the unknown, the fear of execution, and the fear of failure.
Earlier this summer, Ms. Chahinian decided that enough was enough. After several false starts, she finally threw caution to the wind and plowed forward on a project that’s been years in the making.
Since 2006, she has poured her spare time and energy into something called the Profile Archive. Now a Web site, it houses short-form video profiles of contemporary artists who speak about their own work, in their own words.
“Some of the best stories I’ve heard about art come from the artists themselves,” Ms. Chahinian said on a recent afternoon over coffee in the garden of c/o the Maidstone in East Hampton. “If you put them in front of a microphone and let them speak their stories, in their own words and in their own space, some very interesting stuff comes out of it.”
Though the current crop of two videos (with two more in the works) were funded out of her own pocketbook, Ms. Chahinian recently launched a campaign on Kickstarter, a Web site used predominantly by creative people to solicit seed money for various projects, to help pay for additional profiles.
Since launching the campaign on August 1, 11 backers have pledged around $6,000. But with around 20 days to go, the project will only be funded if she can reach her goal of $25,000 between now and Sept. 5.
A graduate of Occidental College in California, Ms. Chahinian grew up in an Armenian family in a suburb Los Angeles. As a child, her father worked as an aerospace engineer and her mother was a homemaker.
Seven years ago, she relocated to East Hampton. Drawn to its “beach-town vibe” and proximity to Manhattan, she moved to the South Fork after completing a Master’s degree in contemporary art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London.
The Profile Archive is her passion project. She pays the bills by working as a real estate agent in the East Hampton office of Douglas Elliman. “I finished my thesis and sort of fell into it,” Ms. Chahinian explained of her day job. While in Los Angeles, she worked as an actress and an executive producer. “Art is my background. It’s what I studied. No one is ever a real estate major.”
Since launching the campaign, one possible model has arisen where benefactors can elect to fund individual videos of their favorite artists. Each seven-minute video costs around $5,000 to make. Recently, William Rayner, an artist and former Condé Nast executive, challenged Ms. Chahinian to track down Ellsworth Kelly, a painter, sculptor, and printmaker, with the possibility of funding his profile.
In terms of other artists, she named Ross Bleckner, David Salle, April Gornick, Miriam Schapiro, Jack Youngerman, Brian Hunt, Chuck Close, Julian Schnabel, George Condo, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Keith Sonnier, Alice Aycock, Malcolm Morley, and Jennifer Bartlett among several other contenders.
Her ultimate goal is for the Profile Archive to include hundreds of short videos. Eric Fischl, a Sag Harbor painter and sculptor, and Yinka Shonibare, a London artist who works in mixed media, are already featured on the Web site. An interview with Dan Graham, whose work was the subject of a 2009 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is in the final stages of being edited.
“The truncated format is compelling for this day and age, with people’s attention spans being what they are,” said Ms. Chahinian, who sees the videos as providing an essential starting place — whether for a student, art collector, or gallery owner looking to begin a more detailed exploration.
“When you can hear an artist speaking about their work and being able to see them and knowing what they look like, it adds a dimension to viewing their artwork,” she said. Though Ms. Chahinian conducts each interview, she never appears on camera. “It lends a lot of texture to the art-viewing experience.”
She can’t help but dream of someday profiling East End artists. Funding permitting, she hopes to escape the dreary winter months, from January until April, by conducting interviews with Los Angeles artists in the southern California sunshine.
When it comes to selecting profile subjects, her one condition is that they must be recognizable — and over the age of 35.
“They have to be museum-quality artists. We’re not looking to interview an eccentric neighbor who watercolors on the side,” she said. Of the age limit, she is interested in speaking with artists who have chosen to make it their full-time career, not as a vehicle to feature 20-somethings, fresh out of art school. “The life of an artist is not for the faint-hearted.”
Earlier this month, when she finally pressed launch on the Kickstarter campaign, she felt an immediate sense of urgency, coupled with excitement. “It felt really good,” said Ms. Chahinian. “You just never know. It could really develop a life of its own.”
And to those who questioned the timing of her campaign, launched at the peak of summertime pandemonium, she offered the following: “We live in vacationland and if we don’t have enough people here in August to fund a project in the arts, when do you think we’ll ever get them?”