An Almost Life-Sized Version Of L.A., Done Totally In Cardboard

Ana Serrano’s handmade installation celebrates the real-life handcrafted urbanism of working class neighborhoods.

The low-slung neighborhoods of Los Angeles are rife with all sorts of DIY urbanism: hand-painted signage, self-installed bric-a-brac, entire front porches that are most certainly not to code. Discovering these electric colored exteriors and incongruous use of building materials became a visual adventure for artist Ana Serrano, a first-generation Mexican American born in Los Angeles. Inspired by these vibrant communities in her hometown, Serrano has built an almost life-sized streetscape in brightly painted cardboard.

Film by Walley Films

Salon of Beauty is currently installed at Rice Gallery in Houston, where an entire room serves as one of Serrano’s ideal city blocks. There’s a liquor store, a check-cashing store, a strip club, and of course the “salon of beauty” after which the show is named, a real-life lost-in-translation sign Serrano saw on a beauty salon. “There’s so much activity in these streets that they make for great inspiration,” she says. Some of the details seen in the above video are absolutely staggering, from the hundreds of cardboard shingles affixed with hot glue, to gorgeous Spanish “tiles” that cover a floor of a house, to a tiered wedding cake in the bakery window, complete with paper roses.

While cardboard provides a practical and economic way to produce Serrano’s vision, the medium also captures the ephemerality of these neighborhoods, where no structure is permanent and a real-life stucco box could disappear at a developer’s whim. Her previous work, Cartonlandia, used cardboard boxes to create a dense, rambling hilltop community. “I like that cardboard is accessible and not a formal art making material,” says Serrano.

While her pieces are not exact replicas of specific buildings, Serrano’s work both celebrates and memorializes these seemingly inconsequential decisions by homeowners and businessowners to say, paint the bars outside their windows hot pink, or build a wall using stacked concrete blocks. Just as Serrano gathered her inspiration by driving through South Los Angeles and photographing her favorite details, she hopes that highlighting these quirky details will allow anyone to see the simple, handcrafted beauty in their own urban environment. “I do hope that people notice these details in a different light than what they are usually perceived as,” she says. “But ultimately it’s up to the viewer to decide what the impact of the work is going to be for them.”

[H/T Los Angeles, I’m Yours]


About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.