About 15 years ago, when she was still a student at ArtCenter College of Design, Ana Bagayan bought a dollhouse. Back then, it was simply a toy that she liked having around, something her young cousin could play with. Time passed and Bagayan became a working artist, showing at galleries like La Luz de Jesus and Thinkspace. She got married, moved to Big Bear for three years, and then embarked upon on a year-long road trip around the U.S. and Canada. Eventually, Bagayan and her husband ended up back in Burbank and the dollhouse re-entered the artist’s life. Now, it’s her mini gallery. Ana’s Dollhouse is a both a conceptual and performance art piece, home to a world that takes shape on Bagayan’s Instagram feed. Ultimately, it may become part of one of her forthcoming solo shows. For now, though, it lives as a work in progress online, where Bagayan tells stories revolving around the antics of gallerists, artists, and collectors working inside the multi-room space.
“It’s hard for me to sometimes remember that this is a fake world,” says Bagayan over coffee in Burbank. “I get really into it.”
Francis and his assistant Val, two fair-haired, retro-looking dolls, run the day-to-day operations of Ana’s Dollhouse. Its rooms are divided into themes—like aliens and cryptocurrency—that are reflected Bagayan’s own art. It’s home to parodies, lovingly made “master copies” and spoofs of real art credited in the dollhouse to fictionalized artists like Hamien Dirst, Keff Joons, and Leonardo DuhVinci. “I’m trying to choose artwork that I actually like so that no one is offended by it,” Bagayan explains. In one vignette, a Keff Joons “Balloon Dog” sculpture that arrived at Ana’s Dollhouse turned out to be a forgery. “I actually intended to make it into an actual version of it, but it was so lumpy,” she confesses.
Bagayan herself has made tiny art for quite some time and there are pieces inside Ana’s Dollhouse that are scaled-down versions of her full-sized paintings. She’s currently building a gallery shop where people will be able to purchase some of those items. She has also amassed what she calls the “permanent collection” of miniatures from other artists, like L.A.-based Tiffany Liu. In addition, Ana’s Dollhouse has become a showcase for the work of fictional artists Mr. Finger and his young daughter, Fingy Finger, whose art Bagayan also creates.
Not long after we met for coffee, Bagayan’s doll alter ego arrived at Ana’s Dollhouse to start her tenure as artist-in-residence. A four-inch by four-inch painting of an alien is the miniature version of a 48-inch by 48-inch piece the artist made for an upcoming solo show in Germany. She’s contemplating whether or not she will reproduce the entire show in miniature. Doll Ana has also picked up Bagayan’s habits and hobbies, including drinking coffee and practicing the martial art Krav Maga. The doll wears a yellow sash over her black dress, representative of the yellow belt that Bagayan recently received.
In many ways, Ana’s Dollhouse has allowed Bagayan to explore issues that are close to her. “One thing that I usually avoided doing myself was participating in the daily reactions to things that are happening,” Bagayan says in a follow-up phone call. “It is kind of challenging, deciding when and where I want to participate.”
On April 24, her doll surrogate held a sign reading “Never Forget” to mark the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. “I think that it’s important that we promote the idea of living peacefully with each other moving forward,” says Bagayan, who was born in Yerevan. “That’s important to be promoting at the moment. Partially, we do that by remembering things that have happened in the past, like the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. These are things that could easily happen again if we allow it to.”
Ana’s Dollhouse also held a group show, Cryptosigns, featuring “proaction” signs from “Dolls March for Decentralized Currency,” a fictional event inspired by the Women’s March and drawing from Bagayan’s own deep interest in cryptocurrency. “My idea behind it was that mostly men own cryptocurrency at the moment,” says Bagayan, “so it was a way to get the word out to more women and that’s really how it relates to the Women’s March.”
There’s a world inside Ana’s Dollhouse that is constantly expanding, as new characters enter the galleries. Recently, Bagayan found a smaller dollhouse that she had bought around the same time as the first one. She’s in the midst of renovating it to add to the story. Bagayan says that there are also mini art prints and collaborations in the works. In all, the project has been a chance for the artist to flex her skills in building narratives through multiple images, as opposed to a single painting. “It’s definitely a new medium for me to be working with in terms of making pictures and even thinking about using more video,” she says. But, it’s a challenge that has personal rewards. “The important thing is that people enjoy seeing the pictures,” she says. “I’m enjoying making it.”