Louise Martin-Chew, In Search of Rainbows 2017
Anna Carey takes us into a fictional architectural space that is familiar yet strange, tangible yet unreal, a place where we can inhabit our own stories and in which she inhabits hers. To do so she distils time — “where everything for a moment stops” — in an elaborate process of research, photography, and model-making, culminating in this series of constructed photographs of the models. They reach out to prompt memory, imagination and the potential of place. Of In search of rainbows, she said, “I want to reawaken the daydreams”.
Carey’s work is informed by the vernacular of place, with the architecture of the Gold Coast, where she grew up, operating as a three dimensional muse. The buildings and structures she seeks out as inspiration for her images are anything but current. “The architecture I depict consists of roadside motels, hotels, apartments and domestic homes of a style that emerged in the 1950s, existing more in strip cities that embrace decentralisation.”
For this 2017 series, she developed seven images in retro-toned pastel colours that may have been experienced inyour grandmother’s lounge, kitchen or bathroom. These depict sparsely under-furnished, now down-at-heel, interiors. Yet we may taste a cocktail of sensory impressions offered up in their titles: Pink flamingo, Blue pearl, Red rose, Green paradise, Orange sun, Yellow moon, Purple sage. They are open — large spaces, single rooms — and without furniture and minimal accoutrements, make space for our own psyche to wander, to imagine what was and might be.
These images were made in the United States, in California, where Carey relocated in 2014, following her interest in the places — Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami — that inspired Gold Coast architecture. In both countries, these cities emerged from the post-war availability of cars, which offered mobility and travel. In her initial explorations inthe US Carey focused on Ed Ruscha-style deadpan photography and images of the ubiquitous “Stardust” motels that populate holiday areas in both the United States and the Gold Coast. They were photographed using an objective view, and she applied a uniform set of rules. “I kept seeing these Stardust motels, like at home on the Gold Coast, but in a different place. So familiar, strange but familiar. With Stardust it felt like I see in a certain way that is also embedded within my memories.” Yet, moving into the In search of rainbows series, she has relaxed those structures, with an evocative series that conjures the poetics of space and the places it may take us.
The crystallisation in these images, of place, colour, memory and their ability to evoke a sensory rush, triggers a tension in the work and stillness in the viewer, so often the starting point for a reverie, a memory or a “moment of solitude”. Historian Tom Griffiths has written about “a tension between the past as familiar (and continuous with our own experience) and the past as strange (and therefore able to widen our understanding of what it means to be human).” It is this tension that makes Carey’s images arresting, and provides their compulsion to make us stop. They feel like history in their evocation of interiors that are real, yet in their sparse furnishings and slightly wonky construction they offer space to speculate.
Gaston Bachelard suggested that our early homes are embedded within human souls as places of safety, protection and inner solitude, that transform into poetic images. Our homes are places from which we may dream of another place, a new interior, or the romance of the outdoors. Carey said, “Stillness and imagination is activated in a house. There are particular places, like near a window, that encourage a daydream.” In these images windows are broad, larger than is proportional to this style of home: portals to the imagination.
Here, nature is experienced only through the windows, with Yellow moon and Blue pearl constructed into wider
natural environments, their flimsy structures at odds with meticulous interior detail — rendered shells like wallpaper decorative lights, interior plants, and windows framing the view. These places are a shelter, a cocooned environment from which the wider world may be contemplated. Yet Red rose is contained within its interior, a door leaning, detached from its hinges, and objects lying, neglected and abandoned on the floor. Wallpaper peels and the stuccoed ceiling wears its age with dirt. Its claustrophobic sense of dereliction is evocative, relieved by its rose hue, with redemption in the sunlight that beams into the central space.
It is colour that is at the heart of these works, its ability to change and charge an atmosphere, to tap into an era and our psyche at will. The retro rainbow tones are also Gold Coast inspired, with an intrinsic association to “pop pastels”. Carey cites Robin Boyd, who slammed the Gold Coast’s “fibro-cement paradise under a rainbow of plastic paint”. To this association, Carey has applied 21st century research, digital technologies that enhance knowledge of place. She used on-line data, hotspots for colour-mapping and geo-tagged colour clusters to identify psychological associations with particular places, “Colour maps identify the dominant colour across cities in the world. There is most blue in LA, green tends to be inland, and red is an inland colour as well. There are mostly coral colours on the coast in Australia. I used Google Maps to reference these images, and added what I see in the street, as well as memory and imagination.”
“In each case, I chose a colour and then built over my own memories. Green paradise evokes the smell of houses on the coast, around the trees. Blue pearl is associated with the ocean, and Purple sage features diamonds, based on an old Queenslander like my aunt owned. They are also predicated on the colours I think certain people I have known would put in their home. Each colour filters a different memory, emotion and smell.”
While these places are about people, with their structures including wallpaper, elaborate lights and balustrades, some glamorous and others utilitarian, all imbued with the familiarity of nostalgia, there are no visible humans.“The places appear isolated: the viewer brings their own imagination to it. I have added plants and some decor, but I am most interested in the space. People relate to that.”
“At times, they even think that they ‘know the place’ the work is based on. However, these are never a specific place— instead they are built from memory and imagination that conflate many aspects of place and architecture into one fictional example.”
Carey's interest in daydreams is timely, given that social media, digital technologies and the frenetic pace of lives have begin to place strict limits on the “down” time most have available. In a review of Michael Harris’s book Solitude, Paul Kingsnorth suggested, “Who daydreams now? Instead of staring out of the window on a train, heads are buried in smartphones, or wired to the audio of a streaming film. Instead of idling at the bus stop, people are loading up entertainment: mobile games from King, the maker of Candy Crush, were played by 1.6 billion times every day in the first quarter of 2015 alone.”
It is this currency that renders Carey’s images particularly poignant — they provide an increasingly rare forum for the conditions in which we might daydream. It is appropriate, perhaps essential, that these images are seen in gallery conditions, a space in which openness is more habitual. “The spaces are big empty places of memory and imagination. I want to allow people to feel those memories and think, I used to live in a place like that, and imagine”.
Like the narrator who accompanies the reader in Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love (who describes herself as “memoirist, intuit, animus, good spirit, genius, whim that I am”, Carey holds the space for “a single moment of revelation about what comes next”.
Louise Martin-Chew, Arts Writer
Barbara Dowse, In Search of Rainbows 2017
In a ‘Proustian’ way, In Search of Rainbows mines those moments of psychological flash and fragmented recall. Anna Carey embraces the connection between space, colour and memory posed by philosopher Gaston Bachelard of spaces as psychological resonating chambers, exterior sanctuaries for our interior states, in much the same way that poetry is for daydreams.
In Search of Rainbows is a suite of seven fictional interior spaces modeled in miniature from artist Anna Carey’s poetic conflation of recollection, imagination and reality. Colour is the decorative, structural and expressive vehicle for the artist. She tells how when she encounters familiar architectural spaces of a particular colour it triggers and associates memories and emotions that flood her new experience.
Each environment of In Search of Rainbows is dedicated to a range of hues within a single colour from the rainbow’s spectrum: red, peachy orange, yellow, green, blue, pink and mauve/purple. The models evolve intuitively as ambiguous spaces saturated with shades and shapes of colour. Interiors are detailed with fanlight windows, sky-lights, ceiling fans, pot plants, stairways, ventilators. Their transitional development is acknowledged in the swatches of colour patched on walls, scattered construction materials and light filtering through fissures of what are as much dreamscapes as architectural designs or prototypes.
Following on from her Stardust series where Google maps was a research tool for locating like-named motels for her models, Anna Carey again accessed the on-line data, this time zooming in, seeking hotspots for colour-mapping and sourcing geo-tagged colour-clusters for potential psychological or political concentrations and associations with place.
The photograph format magnifies aspects of the miniature, reminding the viewer that the transient space is artifice, a constructed object. The artist shoots in the open, in infinite space in the landscape. She seeks to photograph in an anonymous setting even though only glimpses of landscape can be had. A consistent light level is desired for each body of work and a light that is sympathetic to the colour and ambience and mood of the interior. The artist re-located from Australia to California in 2015. She took the models for Rainbow to the desert precinct outside Palm Springs to shoot the series in early 2017 as the light in Venice Beach where she lives did not have the clarity she desires.
Anna Carey aims to reawaken imaginations for the viewer by creating a space of stillness, solitude and contemplation, a place for remembering days, forgetting time, for reverie, for drifting between reality and daydreams induced by colour, space and memory – for rediscovering that which is in yourself.
Barbara Dowse, Curator
Andrew Baker, Stardust 2015
Anna Carey’s Stardust is a photographic suite featuring five retro-styled ‘Stardust’ motels from different parts of the world. The motels exist in both ‘… then’ and ‘… now’ versions, resulting in a suite of ten images. Anna’s fascination with mid-twentieth century architecture arose while growing up in Queensland’s Gold Coast, where she was exposed to such edifices for the first twenty-odd years of her life. Later, while travelling to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Carey got to see many of the original buildings whose style had influenced Gold Coast architects of the 1950s and ‘60s.
To create her fastidiously constructed ‘… then’ photographs, Anna sourced historical photographs of retro-styled ‘Stardust’ motels from the Internet for use as reference images. She used these low-quality photos to design and roughly fabricate miniature models of the motels using flimsy materials such as paper and foam core. Carey photographed the intricately detailed models within cinematically-styled ‘sets’, which featured oversized photographs of real landscapes as their backgrounds. Taking the lead from early Hollywood filmmakers, Anna shot these highly-stylised tableaux vivants under natural light in Los Angeles—the city where she now lives and works.
Once the ‘… then’ versions of the various ‘Stardust’ motels were created and photographed (showing the buildings in their theoretical ‘prime’), Anna used Google Maps to find images of how they currently looked. Using these images as a guide, Carey ‘renovated’ the models to produce realistic ‘… now’ versions of the motels. Creating updated locations into which they were placed, Anna re-shot the overhauled models to create present-day versions of the motels. The resulting photographs show how the buildings have metamorphosed since their glory days, highlighting features such as revamped signage, repainted walls and phased-out swimming pools.
As a child of the Internet-generation, Anna Carey helps us to understand how technologies such as Google Maps, Navman and Global Positioning Systems have become the tools of choice for contemporary orientation, fact-finding and planning. In so doing, these new forms of information management have largely made redundant the beautiful retro-styled signage which formerly adorned our highways and byways, advertising the location and services of roadside motels.
This project uses international examples of retro-styled ‘Stardust’ motels to exemplify the world-wide homogeneity of a style of architecture which is distant from yet connected to contemporary culture, both in time and space. It also demonstrates how, over time, digital technologies might change the appearance of urban landscapes all over the world.
Andrew Baker, Art Dealer
David Malouf, Anna Carey 2014
Anna Carey works with photography. Places once deeply experienced, houses called up out of memory and the holiday times she spent there as a child, are the subject of her art.
The colours in which they appear, the skies that light them, their odd details and haunting isolation, appear to her first as an interior picture, and are then reconstructed as simplified three-dimensional models. She then ‘fixes’ them as two-dimensional photographs: not of what was once there and actual, as in the usual holiday snapshot, but as a reality remembered, or significantly mis-remembered and remade. This is the artist’s way of reproducing the process of memory itself. In which time, but also feeling, changes, simplifies, sharpens what was once untidily real and preserves only what is relevant to the emotional charge it carries.
A moment of time lost is recovered, as in Proust, but in a deeper and more enduring form, by allowing it to be flooded with the light not only of time past but of time remembered, and the time between.
In this way Carey lays claim to something of the freedom that language possesses: to work, through the exploitation of tense, in more than one moment at a time. Not simply, that is, in the immediate present that is the special realm, but also the limitation usually, of the purely visual arts.
David Malouf, Author
Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach, Neither Here Nor Elsewhere 2012
A Palm Beach Local, Anna Carey has brought to her work first-hand knowledge of the shacks and flats of the Gold Coast’s post-war tourism boom. Remnants of an era now irrevocably eclipsed by speculative development, these buildings nonetheless remain a touchstone for the city’ssense of itself. As a young artist, however, born in the 1980s, Carey could never have known these built forms as the new, pristine icons through which the Coast advanced its image as Australia’s playground. And, indeed, in her most recent series Mirage (2012), the dwellings we see through her lens are aged, verging on the decrepit; they support few signs of life.
On the one hand, we might read Carey’s models as artfully abandoned structures, like Gordon Matta-Clark interiors on the verge of splitting, or empty low-rise shells braced before the wrecking ball. On the other, despite this apparent contemporaneity, in soft focus they naïvely occupy the Gold Coast of the past. Exterior shots of reconstructed landmarks have them basking in the sun free of the permanent shadow cast by a high-rise construction.
There is seemingly little need for formal site boundaries in the absence of any close neighbours. There is room in these works to stretch outwards; and no imperative, yet, to reach for the skies.
Like the Ambassador Hotel of Pat O’Neill’s Decay of Fiction, Carey’s models refuse to be of any one time, impossibly straddling an historical half-century of Gold Coast development through the registration of age and the erasure of the city. This is no mean feat. The decades since the 1960s have overseen tremendous growth and largely unfettered development on the Gold Coast, transforming it entirely from an easy seaside escape—albeit the capital of Robin Boyd’s Austerica—to a fully-formed city: in some moments dense and unapologetically vertical, in others a tribute to near infinite ubiquity and relentless sprawl. Now a suburb rather than a settlement, Palm Beach is surely among the last parts of the city to be handed over to the forces to which the rest of the Gold Coast—and the Pacific strip especially—have been subject. This, perhaps, offers an anchor to the play Carey enacts between the general and the particular, between the atmospheric nostalgia and the peeling signage.
The interior spaces and architectural objects of Carey’s Mirage are at once intimately tied to the Gold Coast as representations in miniature of artefacts and confrontingly fictional as shared, collectively held images. We might recognise Carey’s Tropical Sands as quintessentially Gold Coast, but as with all these works they are, in fact, documents of imagination and memory rather than of a contemporary or past reality. More than this: with each frayed detail they belie the burden of that memory in the present. The play between tired buildings rendered in miniature and a seemingly benign natural backdrop results in the uneasy construction of typological memories that openly draws upon the internationally dispersed mid-century American language of Googie modernism.
In effect, she explores the implications of an architectural type imbued with the language of the temporary, and hence of the temporal: of short stays, of passing through, of escape through distance. As an editor suggested in a monographic issue of Architecture in Australia in 1959, the Gold Coast is all well and good for a holiday, but surely not one can actually live there. And yet Carey invokes, too, the atmosphere of those who sought to render this escape permanent. Her models recall another widely spoken interior dialect of garish linoleum and Spanish arches.
The work done by the model itself in assuming these positions has been carefully developed across the artist’s work. In one of her earliest images, Nest (2009), she appears more insistent about the model as a crafted representation of apparently real space. The series Mediamorphosis (2009) pursues the model as an artistic subject in and of itself. In this series, Carey offers exterior views free of context, overlaying graphic linework to complete missing sections of the structure. Where this earlier project retains an aspect of documentation (of an apparently real space, or the model as crafted object),
Mirage presents us with a significantly heightened sense of ambiguity, with the effect that the question of rendering the world in miniature is traded for the matter of the form of our investment in the past. No longer simply representations, these images are fictions.
This ability to execute photography as fiction connects Carey’s images to the work of established artists like David Levinthal or James Casebere, and more recently that of Lori Nix. The key difference between Carey’s works and a series like Levinthal’s Modern Romance (1984-6), or an image like Nix’s Laundromat from her series The City (2005), lies the expression of craft. Carey permits a more deliberate expression of the artist’s hand and the traces it leaves in the process of constructing these images. This gesture of visible process creates a complex relationship with the fictional qualities of the images, where the scale of the objects and spaces we see (like the setting for the images as both Gold Coast and nowhere) refuses to remain static.
It adds up to a programmatic disorientation, temporal as well as scalar and material. We are neither in the past nor in the present; represented buildings and interiors are without context, but in a natural setting. The patterning of the linoleum invokes with crystal clarity the moment and the temporal relationship at stake in the work, but with patterns that immediately bar the full experience of nostalgia. These are not memories, artefacts constructed in miniature; they are tools of nostalgia that throw the very problem of memory’s burden into relief.
Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach