“Disorientation and illusion”: Anna Carey on nostalgia and fantasy


Madame Mystery is not a real person, but you can text her to learn your fortune. The mystical figure’s phone number emblazons magical shop fronts: she’s your psychic advisor, tarot reader, truth revealer. While these shop fronts may only appear in staged photographs, there is an actual human at the end of the line: Anna Carey.

The artist, who spent much of the last decade living in Los Angeles, is known for lifelike photographs of miniature architectural models, made from foamcore and perspex at a 1:50 scale. Carey is fascinated by vernacular architecture (modest designs that are region-specific) and its echoes around the world—her hometown of the Gold Coast takes inspiration from the likes of Miami and Palm Springs. Her photographs play on memory, nostalgia and imagination, blurring the line between reality and construction.

“I’m interested in disorientation and illusion, and that really stemmed from my experiences living on the Gold Coast and things changing so rapidly,” she says. “Places that held a lot of memories that were deeply familiar to me were disappearing really fast. In this architecture of memory, the photograph is a way to capture that moment in time.”

Madame Mystery continues the artist’s long-held interest with the supernatural, inspired by the otherworldly films and television Carey consumed to escape the pandemic. The exhibition is also a continuation of a 2020 work of the same name. While the imagined psychic shop fronts bring a fantastical element into the artist’s models and photographs, the inclusion of Carey’s actual phone number lends a real-life grounding.

“That was a way for people to contact me—an element of communication when we’re separated, to go into another world,” she says. Embodying the character of Madame Mystery, Carey responds to these messages to add yet another dimension to the work.

Madame Mystery
Anna Carey
Artereal Gallery
16 September—15 October

This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen