Through my on-going research on art & sustainability, I have been carried away by the haunted floral artwork of Azuma Makoto. His creations remind us of the transcendent nature of our being through the ephemeral existence of flowers. Surpassing their ubiquity, Makoto carefully observes their inner beauty and their delicate process of decay. His new installation encapsulates, ….., a topic we investigate at ZEITGEIST 19 – how we can create a positive social and environmental impact through the means of art.
As Matisse writes in his book Jazz (1947) ‘There are always flowers for those who want to see them.’(Il y a des fleurs partout pour qui veut bien les voir.)
Azuma Makoto is based in Tokyo since 1997. After managing a flower shop, he started his artistic career in 2002 with the opening of his floral atelier JARDINS des FLEURS. He is well known for his botanical sculptures, in which he augments the flower by using industrial materials and devices. His curious work enhances plants’ existential value and gives us a fleeting glimpse of the invisible for the eye, an escape into the blossoms.
This interview is devoted to flowers.
'I treasure the process of making food from scratch, for me it’s a therapy.'
'I always make sure to have music in background, soft lighting and lots of wine'
What is the way of flowers and is the tradition of Ikebana (生け花, 活け花) important in your work and artistic approach?
Fresh food and good company. I think people worry too much about having multiple dinner courses and everything coming out perfect in the kitchen but some of my best meals have been as simple as a bowl of figs, cheese and tea with close friends.
What is the message behind your artwork project In Bloom, installed in various unusual places such as a glacier, ocean, desert and even outer space?
I think it comes down to colorful fresh produce. Arranging food lightly and in layers can make a nice presentation. One of my favorite things to plate are salads, I think of them as edible floral arrangements.
Do you perceive artist as a guide in times of darkness?
I think that a feast can be as simple as focusing on one main dish for guests to share. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with too many dishes, ask a friend to bring salad and another to bring dessert. The most important thing for a successful evening is that the host is relaxed and enjoying the company. I’ve arrived to friends homes where they are down the hall in the kitchen preparing multiple courses all evening and barely end up sitting at the table with friends. While it may wow people in a culinary sense, you’ve lost the entire experience of connecting to those around you.
Diana's team - the Jewels of New York.
You come from a cultural background where transcendence and imperfection is highly appreciated and valued. What is your understanding of wabi-sabi?
In New York, I like Estela for italian food. The atmosphere is chic and modern but still feels warm and inviting. The food is delicate and stylish, my favorite for a special dinner. My first stop in California is Gjusta, which is like a new take on a Jewish deli with healthy, delicious food. You grab a ticket and go to the counter where there is yummy prepped ahead salads, open faced toasts and even a smoked fish station.
You say that you create flower installations in environments where plants usually cannot survive. Is this somehow related to the current global environmental crisis?
In NYC people don’t entertain as much as home, given time and space. So when they actually do it, it’s extra special because we are so used to eating in restaurants.
Gatherings in LA are super casual, there are lots of barbecues and outdoor gatherings. With such great weather, it’s incredible to enjoy dining under the stars.
What do you think is the power of ‘conscious’ art? Can you tell us more about your latest work speaking of sustainability?
I enjoy going upstate to the catskills to enjoy the wintertime, all the mountains are covered in snow and it’s great to find a place for a hot cup of apple cider and sit in front of a fire. One of my favorite restaurants is Brushland in Bovina.
What would you cook your guests for a pre-Christmas gathering?
I always make beef stew around this time of year. If you want to be extra fancy, you can place the cooked stew into a carved out pumpkin and roast it together. The pumpkin becomes an edible vessel for the stew and you can scoop out chunks of pumpkin along with the stew.
What is the most important when you capture a table in your table sets?
That the food is just made, it needs to be as fresh as possible.
Diana's Christmas cookies recipe
Each chapter and recipe in your A Simple Feast book has a story, meaning, purpose... What would you like to communicate through it regarding sharing food?
I was inspired to write the book after moving to New York and wanted to tell the stories and journeys that surround the meals we make.
I suppose you encounter a lot of improvisation along the way.. is there a funny cooking moment you will never forget?
I had made a special rice pilaf salad for a wedding that took the whole day to make and we saw it was burnt at the bottom of the pot right before the event, so we had to toss it out. I had to run to a chinese restaurant, buy their entire supply of white rice and threw seasoning and veggies into it last minute. The couple said it was their favorite dish of the night!
Is there a culinary pioneer that you admire?
I’ve always thought Alice Waters was the biggest food hero. She is one of the most recognized names in the food world and cares about everything from sustainability in food to the vibe and design in her her restaurants. She treats dining like an art form.
Portrait of AZUMA MAKOTO
Illustrated by LOLA BERTAN
MR. MAKOTO, How did you find your calling and what was your first encounter with art?
I began cooking in college when I lived in San Francisco. I was surrounded by the best restaurants but was living on a student budget, so the next best option was visiting the farmers market and learning to cook on my own. I also loved having dinner parties and gatherings around food.
You are a floral artist. What is your floral palette and how did flowers become your medium of choice?
I find a lot of inspiration while I’m traveling. I might discover a new spice or be blown away from a dish at a restaurant and try recreating my own version at home. I’ve recently moved to Fort Greene in Brooklyn and am lucky enough to be a block away from an incredible little farmers market. I load up on the prettiest produce I can find and come up with creative ways to cook with them throughout the week.
What are the different layers of your work process and in what way it is different working with living objects?
I love making good produce the focus of a dish. Sometimes I’ll find fun colorful veggies like fairytale eggplant or baby artichokes and try to keep them as whole as possible because they are so adorable. Anything miniature surprises people and give them delight when they see the dish.
An Intimate Gathering at home.
You have various interesting collaborations with fashion labels, such as hermes, fend and your exhibition with Dries Van Noten at the museum Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris? How do you translate the contemporary through the language of flowers?
I have a design background that has given me ability to work with food on a visual level. I think of styling like you are painting a plate with all the components.
How is your enchanted laboratory JARDIN des FLEURS adding up to the green vibe of Tokyo? How is the city developing in a more conscious environmentally friendly direction? And what are the biggest challenges?
I love roasted brussel sprouts. It might sound a little OCD but I cut off the base and peel off all the layers individually like little petals and roast those separately from the centers so they have a nice crispy texture. They turn out like kale chips and I sprinkle them over everything!
what is your botanical sanctuary?
Lots of candles, tapered and votives. And greenery like eucalyptus leaves makes it feel wintery. Usually, I’ve got pretty bowls with oranges or winter fruits.
What have you learnt from the heart of the Amazon rainforest?
I’m not an expert when it comes to wines but since I’m from California I love drinking pinot noir when I’m having winter stews.
Another happy table...
Running your own business is exciting and very challenging... How did you manage to sustain and grow your creative studio? What was your motivation?
My motivation was to have creative freedom. That’s the biggest reward that comes with your own business, everything you do is because you chose your own path. I try to remember that even when work is hard.
You work in a collaborative nature. How do you keep a harmonious flow in your team work?
I try to recognize the strengths of other people and let them do what they do best. I’m supportive with assistants and other stylists, I think making the best work comes from happy, appreciated people.
Why is seasonal cooking important?
I think it’s important in working with nature and following the seasons. It makes sense for the environment, health and our bodies.
What are the good local markets?
Union Square Farmers Market and Stone Barns are the best.
How do you implement slow cooking in your recipes?
I treasure the process of making food from scratch, for me it’s a therapy. Most of my recipes focus on simple components all made from scratch, I rarely use premade items from jars.
A Simple Feast CookBook.
can be purchased at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Roost Books