Carrie Becker to Debut 'Of Small Rooms' at William Shearburn Gallery Friday

By Krystin Arneson
In Culture

Mad Art Gallery Director Carrie Becker is making her artistic debut on the St. Louis gallery scene with her first solo exhibition opening June 5 at William Shearburn Gallery. Her works, which feature dollhouse-scale dioramas shot to appear life-sized and otherworldly in their crumbling, decrepit state, are all carefully built before the photography—not to mention editing—begins. Anything Becker can make by hand, she does, so the start-to-finish of a scene can take 120-200 hours to bring to life.

ALIVE’s partnered with the gallery to bring the exhibition to life, and we were thrilled to have the chance to sit down with Florissant-raised Becker to talk her creative process—and end results.

"The Bibliophile," by Carrie Becker.

“The Bibliophile,” by Carrie Becker.

ALIVE: Congrats on your first solo show!

Carrie Becker: I’m so excited—I never expected it. He found me—I did not expect it.

ALIVE: Did you anticipate your work being shown in an exhibition like this?

CB: It’s always the goal, but you can’t ever anticipate that it’s going to happen. It’s not like asking for a loan: You can put the information out there, but you never know who’s going to bite.

I have had a couple of solo shows in the past—one in graduate school and then again when I had a residency a year after graduate school, when I was doing mostly sculpture. In graduate school, the entire period, you know, you’re working toward that end goal [of a thesis show.] With the residency, I knew a year in advance, so every day I was like, “Gotta get it done, gotta get it done.” With this, it was like a three- or four-month turnaround from not knowing about it to knowing the exhibition’s going to open.

I mostly had the images all taken, the sets built and photographed. It was really about finding a printer, going in every two to three days to check that the density and the color were correct, and you have to go in and make some changes and resubmit the files and make sure it’s correct. They’re large prints, certainly nothing I could do on my own at home. These are so much bigger—2×3 feet or 4×6 feet—so they’ll be huge wall pieces. So the challenge for this was deciding how they were going be displayed. You start incorporating very large pieces of glass, and they get very heavy and very fragile, so … then we decided to do a piece called face-mounting, so the print gets adhered to the plexi, and then that gets framed.

"The Not So Grand Piano," by Carrie Becker.

“The Not So Grand Piano,” by Carrie Becker.

ALIVE: How does it feel to see your work hung in the gallery environment?

CB: It’s pretty easy to crank something out at home and hold it in your hands and go, “Yeah, that’s done.” When I saw the largest print, the 48×72, I couldn’t even believe it was mine—I thought, “That’s something you’d see in a museum.” To walk into a professional space and see things as large as they are and framed—I’m going to cry! It’s a significant step forward from what I’ve done in the past.

I had a residency at the McColl Center for Visual Arts … [the solo show] was an entire gallery room, and it was up for four months, and I got a stipend, and that was an end point as well. But that was in North Carolina, and this is local, and everyone I know can come out to it—it just kind of warms my heart. There’s a little more pressure to kind of bring it.

ALIVE: Your work is both an image of a 3-D work and a 3-D work itself. To which side do you see it leaning?

CB: It’s definitely a melding of both, and I’ve gotten chastised for saying I make props and photograph them! For me, I have to say that building the sets and making the materials is a little more the means to an end, because ultimately I want to create an interesting scene that I couldn’t find in nature ….

I think it’s great, a really fun experience, but at the end of the day I want to have control over everything in the scene, and the only way to do that is by making it. Installation is great, and textiles are great, but it’s expensive, time-consuming, not practical—there’s no place to store that stuff. It’s a great process, and at the end of day it’s not very practical if you’re poor and don’t have a large living space!

So I went back to what I learned in commercial photography shooting catalog room scenes. Between that knowledge and my hobby of going into abandoned houses and photographing them and being able to use my sculptural knowledge and say, “Let’s see what happens when … “. It started out as a challenge to me. I got one cool scene, one good image and someone said, “Yeah, keep doing that.”

"Snowed In," by Carrie Becker.

“Snowed In,” by Carrie Becker.

ALIVE: The other interesting juxtaposition is in the subject matter itself: Ruins are often seen as nature overcoming the control of man in the built environment, yet your work flips that on its head.

CB: There’s definitely a dichotomy, and yet the work I make is largely “as messes.” I don’t find them ugly, there’s an element that’s present in my work—beautiful decay. It’s so ubiquitous, and the inspiration never really runs out. I never get tired of it.

"Dappled Sunlight," by Carrie Becker.

“Dappled Sunlight,” by Carrie Becker.

ALIVE: How does “Of Small Rooms” [2013-present] build on your previous series, “Barbie Trashes Her Dreamhouse” [2010-2011]?

CB: With the original “Barbie Trashes Her Dreamhouse,” the backgrounds weren’t that special. Later I rebuilt all the scenes, all the sets; I tried to make them more precious, more interesting. It’s not necessarily “Dreamhouse,” so I call it “Collyer’s Dollhouse.” The Collyer brothers lived in Manhattan at the turn of the last century and were hoarders and met their demise when they suffocated under their own belongings, but if you’re familiar with the story you’ll associate Collyer with being a hoarder.

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