Stuart Hawkins says she was never any good at drawing. Upon deciding she to be an artist in the first grade, she arranged toys and stuffed animals, even creating scenes from wrinkles in a bedsheet. Her photographs now, the most recent of which are on view at Zach Feuer, contrast the raw and neglected landscape of Kolkata, India, with brightly-colored handmade props assembled from construction paper, tape, and found objects. The present series depicts elaborately quaint scenes of bourgeois prosperity.—MARGARET KNOWLES
Mixed media, crrently on view at Zach Feuer in New York.
The making of Rooftop Garden happened in Rajarhat (or Newtown) in Kolkata, India, one of India's largest new planned cities. The fate of this city has yet to be decided—there is some optimism, but most signs are negative. Rooftop Garden was made on the roof of a four-story home yet to be completed.
I was shooting some video when a man walked by and stopped to ask, "Many of these homes were to have rooftop gardens. How can you have a rooftop garden without water?" I asked him if he wanted to help me make a photo of what a roof top garden might look like on top of this concrete building and he agreed. We walked up the stairs to the third floor (where construction had stopped) and created it. Nothing was removed that was already there. I just tried to make the composition before the paper ripped in the wind and we ran out of water to pour on the hypothetical garden.
While shooting in India, I would head out every day with a bag of tape and paper finding other props along the way. Random people contributed ideas of what they would like to see depicted and then they would help to fabricate the theme out of makeshift props. Rooftop Garden was made with a very simple methodology. The man who had approached me wanted to hold up the topiaries but it was too windy and the construction paper was batting him in the eyes. As a last-ditch effort, he taped them to the metal rods coming out of the floor.
My new work is different from previous work because no people clearly portrayed. They are all fragmented-a leg here, a hand there, a finger there. I wanted the work to represent multiple places in the world and not just a development project in Kolkata, India. I thought it would be more compelling to have the inanimate objects speak, but I was always very conscious of the person behind the objects. Although they were "masked," their presence never felt any less real than those of other people I have photographed for various projects. Their ideas were central to my work.
Taking a sip out of a water bottle, the man helping me said, "Here is water for the garden," and he started to pretend like he was watering the paper topiaries. I got really excited about this "watering can" idea and had him pour water while I took pictures. However, I didn't like that you could see his hands—I wanted his presence to appear less realistic. So I asked him to wear a pair of purple gloves.
Topiaries make me feel constricted and claustrophobic. I like a wilder landscape. But if you live in a chaotic and crowded city with a certain lack of order, I would imagine that a topiary might represent a kind of calmness and security that I can appreciate. Even though my work is very formal, I thrive artistically in environments that are not so ordered.
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