Anna Condo on being drawn to the worlds we don’t know ❀
In a Q&A, the artist and filmmaker shares what she’s learned about herself from photographing flowers, how she uses AI to cultivate surprise, and why she collects so much art.
Anna Condo grew up in a family of artists—including a composer, an opera singer, and a painter—and has been an artist in her own right from the start. Working as an actor, film director, and later as a photographer, she has now been experimenting with AI for about a year as a way to further expand her practice. She released her first NFT back in 2021, and has now become an advocate for the medium as both an artist and as an avid collector.
The below conversation between Anna Condo and Gemma contributor Willa Köerner offers insight into Anna’s newly released Founding Artist Edition, “Les Fleurs de CV.” Condo also shares more on her creative process, her lifelong interest in flowers, and her distaste for the art world’s current transgression into more marketing-driven works.
Willa Köerner: You and I both share flowers as a muse, and coincidentally, the first Gemma Artist Edition was Petra Cortright’s Flowers For Gemma. So let’s start with flowers. Why are you drawn to them?
Anna Condo: Flowers are an inevitable muse when making art, just like love and spirituality. That’s because throughout time, they've always been here. They’re symbolic, and they are used for all sorts of celebrations. They are cultivated, they are appreciated, they are medicinal. They have an incredible list of powers and abilities. And at the same time, they carry the exact recipe that artists are always drawn to: color, shape, movement, and soul.
My interest in photographing flowers started as a way to understand myself better. A photograph of a flower is called a still life. But ironically, as a photographer working with a flower, you are actually looking at a living, moving, changing life form. One of the major things that flowers have helped me to learn is the acceptance of things as they are. With growth, the seasons, and all the challenges that come along for a flower, there is this necessary sense of acceptance that simply happens throughout their lifespan.
As you stand in front of a rose, it doesn't know it's called a rose, and it can’t change its surroundings or its circumstances, but it still thrives and does its thing. As a person, I’m striving for that same state.
I'm curious about your process now, working with AI. Can you explain how you meld it in with your photography, and how it all comes together?
So far I've been using text-prompted AI outputs to create images, rather than uploading my own photographs as a data set. When I’ve tried mixing and matching my own photography with AI, I haven’t liked the results. Instead, I'm much more interested in the discovery and surprise of using text prompts.
When I shoot a flower with a camera, the way I feel about the flower evolves as I let myself be guided by it. As its position changes, or as day turns to night, I continually see something different. Similarly, I'm not interested in recreating myself or my visual language through AI. Instead, I'm interested in pursuing this sense of discovery and surprise.
How do you take what the AI generates and narrow it down to the works you want to keep? Does it feel similar to the process of finding selects within a batch of photographs?
In a way, the challenge is the same as with a photograph. I’m always looking to see if an image feels like it comes from a place of truth.
I also like to respond by interrogating my gut reactions. I’ll look at an image and think, “That’s not my favorite composition, or one of my favorite species of flowers, or one of my favorite color combinations. So what does it mean that I’m drawn to it?” When an image says to me, “I'm here for a very legit reason. This is what I'm trying to do,” even if I don’t initially love it, I try to say, “Okay, let's open the heart, open the mind, and try to welcome it.”
Is the piece you’re releasing with Gemma a photograph, or AI-generated? Can you share a little of the story behind it?
The piece for Gemma is a photograph—it’s actually the last photograph I took, from a couple of months ago. There's no retouching, no Photoshop, and no post-production editing.
Lately I haven't been pulling out my tripod to shoot flowers. I think every decade has created a shift in me, and I'm going to be 60 at the end of this year. I don't want to just repeat myself in terms of what I do and how I do it. So I'm very curious, but also unknowing, as to what is coming next. Between film and photography and now AI, I'm learning new tools. Ten years ago, I had no idea I’d be making art with AI. I didn't even know about it two years ago—but that’s why I find it exciting.
In terms of the flowers in the Gemma piece, they’re chrysanthemums. Somebody I met from the NFT world came over for dinner and brought them. They had a really unusual feel to them, and reminded me of Japanese engravings. I really wanted to shoot them, so I had them in my studio for a couple days, but I kept not picking up the camera. It felt like, “Why am I waiting?”
Eventually I thought, “It's either now or it's over.” Finally taking the photo was a way to say, “I see you and I appreciate you, and I know you don't look as fresh as the day I got you, but that's not important because that's part of everything.”
Your series Tulip 1637 from a couple of years ago draws parallels between the 17th-century tulip mania in Holland, to the more recent surge of interest in trading crypto and collecting NFTs. What drew you to this project idea?
I didn't know what NFTs were before these tech gentlemen came to me with the idea for Tulip 1637. That collection is extra special for me because it was the first time I ever made an NFT, and the first time I shot something that was meant to be seen on a screen. “Art for the glass age” is how I define this. It’s a way to describe where we are as a culture right now, where nearly every single thing is on a screen.
As far as the era of tulips in Holland, the thing I find really interesting is that the people who were collecting art were the same ones who collected tulip bulbs. It was all about cultivating these exceptional different species and colors. As human beings, we've always been drawn to the worlds that we don't know—the mysterious worlds. And I think tulips had that same effect on people then, as did the paintings they were collecting then, and the art people collect today.
In addition to releasing your own work as NFTs, you have a large NFT collection. What drives you to collect another artist's work?
I like to learn as I go on. So when I got into NFTs as an artist, I was always thinking it was important to understand the full ecosystem. The way life has been dealt to me, I’ve ended up with a lot of art. It’s what I know best. I'm just not that interested in dresses or shoes, and I'm not a big traveler because I like to stay home and make art. And so being all the way in on art, regardless of the medium, is something that just makes perfect sense to me.
I have a critical eye on how the world around me is commercializing art in ways that I don't find beautiful. I feel like I can do my part by remaining quietly passionate about certain things, and by supporting artists as a collector.
Art should be something soulful rather than an Instagram-worthy moment. Good art goes beyond money, beyond hype, beyond all of these things. I hope the world still continues to see true artists, not marketers. And I hope the world will continue to see true collectors as no different than the artists. They're equally transported. It’s just that their medium is different.
“Hidden Gems” are beautiful, rare, or meaningful finds from across the internet. Anna Condo has been digging into:
I randomly pick one on YouTube and listen daily.
💧 Gal Elmaleh: American Dream
Gad Elmaleh is a Moroccan French speaking stand up comic. I had seen his “American Dream” and loved it, so I rewatch for a laugh.
💧 House Hunters HGTV series
This is such a relaxing and satisfying series.
Gemma is an emerging community co-inhabited by artists, curators, and contributors with a shared vision for how culture can shape our future. This summer Gemma is releasing weekly open editions from our Founding Artists, which you can mint now. Subscribe and follow us on Instagram and Twitter to be notified about new releases.