Ali madigan makes space for what she loves

And ends up designing her own worlds in the process. 

Words by Trash
Photos by jess calleiro 

Ali Madigan (@Alimadigan) is an installation artist, set designer and architect from Oakland, California. She’s lived in Paris, New York, London, Berkeley and Los Angeles and is likely stretching alongside some piece of the California coast at this very moment.

Madigan’s design aesthetic consists of simple shapes and strong colors, expertly arranged into geometric poems that create spaces and fill them with feeling. At home in Oakland, Ali produces this type of work at local venues such as Midway Gallery and the experimental music festival and art exhibition Feels

She also travels to share these design skills in all sorts of production environments – from music video shoots and film sets to installations at museums and events.

Madigan’s personal work is often tranquil and always beautiful. The nexus of her personal practice is The Palace, her ongoing construction project in West Oakland. What began as a warehouse with about a hundred years of history under its belt, including stints as both a bar and a laundromat,  is now Madigan’s residential exhibition space. She can be found knocking out windows, stripping walls and hosting other artists in The Palace on any given day. It serves as a home and community space to many, and provides Madigan with a constant impetus to evolve how she sees things.

Luckily for TRASH, Madigan says her eye for detail also applies to video.

“I’m an obsessive freak for composition and playing with media,” she admits.

TRASH caught up with Madigan to talk education, inspiration and feeling mischievous. 


This is always a complicated and exciting question because my education has been far from straightforward. Sometimes I like to define it by what I didn’t do — I didn’t go to art school, or even high school (I dropped out at 13, then again at 16 for good). In those days, I was obsessed with clothes, so I learned to make my own. I also went to sideshows and drove scrapers, so I learned to repair cars and install sound systems. My reverence for design and aesthetic value have always fueled my interests, and my interests drove me through a winding and unconventional education that required me to be a self-starter.

I was lucky to feel validated in my craft once I entered the design world. When people would ask me, “Where’d you learn to do that?” I felt a sense of mischief because I never really learned — I just tried (sometimes haphazardly) and did.

WILL YOU TRASH some videos of your creative process?  

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT designing spaces?

I love making people feel connected to spaces. I think when a space is well designed, it’s evocative. A person can feel warmth, excitement, spiritual harmony, all without needing the language for it.

The Palace is such a personal project that allows me to experiment with intuition and connection to space in that way. Since walking into it two and a half years ago, it’s taken on the role of a home, work studio, showroom, gathering space and trippy experimental center. The process has been sporadic — working in spurts where things get messy and loud for a while (via construction) and then staged as a habitat again. Each time I set it up a little differently, live with the configuration and notice the effects. How often am I compelled to sit in that chair? Where do my eyes naturally travel from this vantage point? Do I feel at ease or a sense of tension when I stand on this side of the room? The Palace becomes a test lab for feeling out those design choices. As my ideas evolve the space will too. A year from now it will look very different.


‘80s architecture, because no one was really trippin about being timeless. Any pre-’90s futurism has a similar wackiness and freedom and I just love to see it. Office buildings. Psychedelics (the spiritual and the aesthetic). The places I’ve been.



It’s important to me to create an enjoyable experience in the production process, whether it’s on set or building an art installation. I try to work with my friends whenever possible because they bring out the trust, play, and perspective that you need to not get burned out on projects. I’m so proud of what we make and how much fun we have doing it.

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Cargo Collective 2017 — Frogtown, Los Angele