Anna Carey is an Australian artist who uses humble cardboard to create architectural models in meticulous detail. Homes, hotels and interior spaces come to life in a way that feels both deeply nostalgic and eerily familiar.
Memory is the only thing that’s permanent about her work. After each fragile model is created, it is memorialised using photography and video . Eventually, each one is destroyed, just like the pastel-hued weatherboard homes they’re inspired by in her hometown of the Gold Coast.
Now based in Los Angeles, Anna’s practice continues to evolve in new ways that increasingly bring together elements of both hometowns into one fictional space. By looking to the architecture of LA, Palm Springs and Las Vegas, she merges elements from her old and new homes to create dioramas that might seem familiar at first, but are merely figments of the artist’s imagination.
We spoke to Anna about how her recent move has informed her work and why the physical spaces we live and work are so tightly wound up with our memories.
How has your work been evolving since moving from the Gold Coast to LA?
The work in my most recent show, In Search of Rainbows, (at Artereal Gallery) has really evolved from my previous work, especially since moving to LA. The last body of work was still made and photographed in America – it was a conceptual exhibition driven by procedure, which involved going out to various addresses and copying them. I like that – the ‘copy-paste’ sort of process because it is similar to the process that went into making the actual physical structures: building and motel owners would copy the sign font but then add their own little style (creativity that referenced place).
That was fun, but for this exhibition, I was looking for something that relied only on myself (not the Internet). And even though I didn’t rely on the internet as source material for my recent work, I’m definitely influenced by it in a certain way. Like if I see something on the internet and it triggers me – I’ll remember the specific detail. Then I might see the detail later when I’m going for a walk, and I’ll remember it even more because I’ve seen it a few times.
Although I still looked at the Internet and Google Maps for inspiration, my most recent exhibition came predominantly from myself: from memory, from imagination. And because the works began in my imagination, they are also bigger. I was talking to my friend about this: imagination can be so big. In your mind, you can get so excited when you come up with something. In my head when I dreamed up these places, when I lay down and closed my eyes, I saw rooms that had bigger windows than I’ve ever created before, with more rooms that came off them.
Do the places you create remind you of anything from your own life?
I try to leave it open but I think it stems from a memory that I have. They are places that are familiar to me and so my works become a conflation of places that are re-imagined. I want the viewer to have a similar experience where they can drift in between memory, reality and fiction. ‘Blue Pearl’ (2017) to me just seems like a holiday place. In a way, I feel like I’ve been there before. I can imagine being in there. ‘Green Paradise’ (2017) reminds me of somewhere in QLD surrounded by trees. I often think of the artist Donna Marcus’ Mount Tamborine Studio when looking at it.
Sometimes with the work, I hope I’m not longing for the past, but I feel like I do use nostalgia as a tool to think about where we are and where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
What prompted your investigation into these homes and spaces?
I’ve always been attracted to the idea of the suburban home. In university, we were really encouraged to experiment. I was living on the Gold Coast and there were a lot of houses being demolished so I was collecting all this old debris and I had to make an installation for a spatial class.
All the houses were being demolished around me, the pastel-coloured homes with the weathered lino floral patterns. I was attracted to the memory that’s associated with the wear and tear and the scratches. They were so familiar to me and they were just disappearing and I felt like I had something to say about that. It’s so weird seeing everything you are familiar with just disappear. So I started making miniature ghost towns. They were all based on places that had been demolished, and from there I wanted to really explore it further and develop these ideas and so I started photographing them.
That wear and tear, those imperfections became my imperfections in the making process – if I scratch a surface then it happens in the work as well. That’s what brings up the memory – after all, if a place was perfectly created, it wouldn’t bring up anything familiar.
It would look like no one’s lived there ever, like a show home with no soul, because there’d be no memory attached to it. What kind of materials are you using and can you tell me a little bit more about about your process?
I use foam core and paper and paint and anything I can get my hands on. Then when the work is finished I take them out to the desert – to Palm Springs. I do this because LA is not sunny (believe it or not) and I want to photograph them in natural light. Recently when I went out, it was raining a lot and I was literally chasing the sun to take the photos. I think I went out to the dessert three to four times to shoot because the light’s nicer out there and also there aren’t as many houses. It means I can put the models down and get the landscape and trees and natural environment and I think these surrounding environmental things are just as important when it comes to creating the atmosphere of a home.
How has moving to LA influenced the direction of your work?
If I was living in Australia I think my work would be different.
I definitely have included little architectural details in my most recent series that you wouldn’t find in Australia – like a lot of art deco, which you don’t find so much of on the Gold Coast. Neon is also a lot bigger in LA and so is all the desert modernism in California. Now that I’m living in LA, I’m realising how much the work of local artists (like Ed Roucha) is influencing my own. I don’t know if I would have been as aware of that before.
There are so many great museums here – and the work you see are by the masters. In LA and in America – there is a certain sort of energy. LA is a massive city, and then there’s Hollywood. That creative energy is part of that community, it’s just normal – art and politics and films is what people talk about.
What are your favourite…
Places to go in LA to see art?
LACMA, MOCA, The Getty, Regen Projects, Hauser and Wirth, Gagosian. I have listed all of the big institutions and some leading galleries in LA but the work that is showcased at these places really is incredible.
Places to go in LA for inspiration?
Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, Big Sur. In LA I really like Chinatown, Silver Lake and Echo park for interesting galleries, shops and restaurants but I don’t get there as much as I wish. I also really like going for hikes to get out in nature.
Emerging artists out of LA?
I really like the work of Los Angeles based artist Zoe Crosher. She is actually quite established now but she is making some very interesting work that responds to LA.
Things to do on the weekend?
Eat my way through LA, movies, galleries, hikes and saunas. I also love to get out of town to the desert or up the Coast.
The Virgin Suicides (or all of Sofia Coppola’s films in general, I can not wait for her new film The Beguiled out this June), Amelie and American Beauty.
A good habit of yours?
A bad habit of yours?
I’m clumsy and messy and always stain my clothes with food, drinks and paint.
A philosophy you try to live by?
Choose love over fear, or bad behavior sets you free. They seem to be the polar opposite but I think when we stop following all the rules and break free we are usually following love.
Your usual breakfast?
A strong juice of greens and a warm nut milk concoction with herbs and cocoa plus more chocolate if I can get my hands on it.
Anna Carey is currently exhibiting a video work as part of a group show at Artereal Gallery, Contemporary Female Photo Artists, on show until 24 August.