Kirk Maxson’s Gardens of Paradise is Eleanor Harwood Gallery’s inaugural show at Minnesota Street Project. Maxson is installing a “Garden of Paradise” as a site for consideration of war and conflict. The Garden is a non-reactionary contemplation of US involvement in current and historical military engagement overseas.
The tradition of a “Paradise Garden” emerged in Persia (Iran) 6th century BC. The gardens were built as a monument to human engineering as much as to the plants andwater they contained. Irrigation and water features are central to the design of the gardens. Gardens were designed with a rectangular and ordered geometry. Within the intelligence and control of the walled garden design, visitors were meant to contemplate their surroundings both visually and spiritually. Maxson creates a “garden” of his own to ask viewers to consider the consequences of war.
The walled-in “Garden of Paradise” in the gallery does not replicate the composition of its historical influence but rather uses the space as a metaphor. Maxson uses two sets of war photos, one from Vietnam and the other from Iraq, as source material for his foliage installations. The photos are cut into leaf shapes and are pinned to the walls in flurries. The leaves are in the shape of North American natives: Valley Oak, Broadleaf Maple and Laurel. Maxson also cuts the images into the shape of fig leaves. The Fig tree is one of the first cultivated plants dating to 9400-9200 BC In the Jordan Valley. The fig perhaps pre-dates other crops by 1000 years. Using the fig leaf points to the location of the conflicts in the cradle of civilization.
The manner of the installation is layered at different depths and the image repeats fragmenting the photo pointing to the psychic toll of warfare on the mind and retaining the imagery of the experience of war. The leaves hold the soldier’s stories and experiences of combat.
The installation will also include wire sculptures of denuded trees. These trees might be the trunks and branches that once held leaves, but now are without life. With an remarkable increase in effective medical care, many more soldiers return home having survived combat but having to live with consequences of severe injury such as amputated limbs or neurological damage. The denuded trees stand as a reminder of the physical toll of modern warfare.
The source imagery for the work comes from two periods in recent American history. The first source is “Larry Burrows: Vietnam”. The second source is “Witness Iraq: A War Journal February-April 2003”.
Larry Burrows was an influential war-time photographer in Vietnam from 1962-1971. His photos have been credited with sparking much of the Vietnam Anti-war protest as they were the first glimpse the public saw of the horror in Vietnam. He was also one of the first war-time photographers to use color film. He told stories with his series of images often following one subject and having multiple photos published so that a narrative emerges about a soldier or location. The use of color and the storytelling evident in his images brought the war home to the U.S. public in a way no other photos of war ever had. Burrows is extremely well known in the world of documentary photography. He was killed when his helicopter was shot down over the Vietnamese – Loas border.
“Witness Iraq: A War Journal February-April 2003” contains photos from the short period of our initial occupation of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein. The photos contained are from multiple embedded photographers within the US Military. The book presents the war as if it is a finished project, a won war. Much has changed since the book was published and obviously the mission to stabilize Iraq was indeed not accomplished.