Living in the midst of uncertain times filled with grief, in a season of blooming hope we are revisiting our poetic conversation with artist Azuma makoto.
Through my on-going research on art and sustainability, I have been amazed and literally carried away by the haunting, floral artwork of Azuma Makoto. His creations remind me of the transient nature of our being through the ephemeral existence of flowers. Beyond their ubiquity, Makoto carefully observes the inner beauty and the delicate process of decay in all flowers His installations encapsulate a substantial question that we investigate at ZEITGEIST 19: How we can create a positive social and environmental impact using art.
Makoto’s ikigai can be summarized in Matisse’s quote:
‘There are always flowers for those who want to see them.’
(Il y a des fleurs partout pour qui veut bien les voir.) Jazz (1947)
Azuma Makoto has been 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 usually invisible nature of a flower, a melancholic escape into the blossoms.
Take a glimpse into Azuma’s floral world of beauty.
This interview is devoted to the transcendent existence of all things.
the flower is life itself.
it will always be an embodiment of
beauty, resilience, vitality and the ephemeral.
Portrait of Azuma makoto
Illustrated by Lola Beltrain for Noir Catcher
How did you find your calling and what was your first encounter with art? How did flowers become your medium of choice?
By chance I started a part time job besides my band activity. It was then when I encountered the beauty of flowers for the first time. Also, I realized that there are many points in common in music and flowers; for example, both are momentary and the unique in the world. Just like every red rose has different characters, a sound differs one by one depending on the player’s state of mind and the surrounding environment. Combining all these elements together to express is basically the same process both in music and flower art. That is one of the reasons why I became completely absorbed in this world.
What are the different layers of your work process and how does it compare to working with living objects?
Life and death and time are very important elements to me. The life cycle of a flower is so short that one can say it is momentary. That is why the very moment of a flower is even more precious and heavier than a human being’s. Without decay or rotting elements my works are not complete.
''As times have changed, the various needs of plants and flowers have increased, and I can foresee that these needs will become even stronger.''
What is the way of flowers? Is the tradition of Ikebana
(生け花, 活け花) important in your work and artistic approach?
I myself have never learned any Ikebana or other styles of flower art, and I learned by myself. So I don’t consciously think about Ikebana so much. Of course, I understand it is one of the amazing elements of Japanese culture, but my approach with flowers is totally different from others.
We humans live with flowers as an important essence. From the moment of birth to weddings, anniversaries, funerals, festivals, and the flower is also an eternal motif in the world of fashion and the arts and crafts. Flowers accompany human life. My work is meant to tie humans and flowers beautifully together and I am trying to reshape that sense in the contemporary and convey it to the world. As times have changed, the various needs of plants and flowers have increased, and I can foresee that these needs will become even stronger.
What is the message behind your artwork project “In Bloom”, installed in unusual places such as on a glacier, in the ocean, in a desert and even in outer space?
I always try to look for ways to bring out a different side to flowers and plants and display their uniqueness to those who have never seen it before. Through the “In Bloom” project, I try to look for new expression under an environment where flowers normally don’t survive. We observed the phenomenon of flowers within different locations and captured these two elements at play. For example in our Exobiotanica (space) project, we launched flowers into the stratosphere, and observed the expression of flowers at around 30,000 meters and -50 degrees. We could capture the beautiful contrast between flowers and the Earth. In the deep-sea project (“Sephirothic flower”), flowers were brought alive with vivid colors stretching their shapes under high-water pressure and darkness at 1,000M depth. We were always surprised by their strength, beautifulness, and possibilities.”
''Humans and flowers are
closely bond up with
Part of your research practice involves visiting and examining natural reserves. What have you learnt from the heart of the Amazon rainforest?
When I went to the Amazon in Brazil, everything was new and shocking. For instance, I saw countless insects swarming to a beautiful flower. It was so beautiful that I cannot express with words. I also saw a parasitic plant that had wrapped itself around a big, three-hundred-year-old tree and pushed it to the ground; it was astonishing. I felt the laws of nature directly and realized once again that there is a beauty that cannot be fabricated by humans.
You come from a cultural background where transcendence and imperfection are highly appreciated and valued. What is your understanding of wabi-sabi?
It’s actually too difficult to explain in a few phrases, however, “Wabi-sabi” is the sense of beauty in ephemerality. Nothing is permanent in this world; life comes and goes. We Japanese find beauty in it, through our five senses.
What do you think is the power of ‘conscious’ art? Can you tell us more about your latest work speaking of sustainability?
I think our “In Bloom” project is of conscious art, and people can feel or find out something; some awareness about nature or the environment through the work. It is always my wish for people to feel my work and imagine using their five senses. However, I don’t want to speak about the environmental issue or sustainability through my work directly. I want people to experience my work and think themselves.”
What keeps you inspired at these challenging times?
My passion lies in the plants themselves. There are countless plants existing in this world and each of them carries a different expression. Moreover, there are different stages of life in each plant; sprouts, buds, followed by the appearance of floral stems and then the blooming of flowers until they decay. Each moment differentiates from the other, beautiful and precious. My mission is to bring out each plant’s hidden beauty and make them even more attractive. Again, every day, I meet different new plants/flowers, and as long as I am interacting with them my passion will never fade away.
Written by Elizabeth zhivkova, 2020 Noir catcher. all rights reserved.
Do you perceive the artist as a guide in times of darkness?
I think it depends on what the artist expresses through his/her artwork. In the realm of flowers, in my opinion, to master the authentic beauty of the flowers, in a way, is to get hold of a kind of strength that will not be affected by the world’s common aesthetic sense that constantly changes with time. The flower is life itself, and it always embodies the notion of beauty, strength, vitality and the ephemeral to people in all eras.”
You have various interesting collaborations with fashion labels, such as 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 think the flower is an eternal motif in the world of fashion. Fashion is a direct reflection of the times we live in, which is denoted through trends, but what I find interesting is how flowers unfailingly continue to be a part of it. I think this is because flowers touch all of us in a way that defies the conventions of any era, country, language, or religion; it is universally and instinctively seen as beautiful.
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? What are the biggest challenges?
My focus is not only artistic. 365 days a year I am always with flowers, confront with flowers and think about flowers. This gives me inspiration and I ask myself, How I can turn them into new values?Therefore I can add an accent in a customer’s flower arrangement or bouquets and evaluate them compared to others. In every city, not only Tokyo, but also others, the environment has a dizzying pace of change every year, and they are now trying to develop in eco-friendly ways. I think it’s necessary to get awareness on individual level, and work on different layers like company, community, government to find out at the small level and to overall social solutions. For us, the flower itself is a natural thing but in the process of production, many suppliers use a greenhouse, and logistics include a CO2 problem. However, humans and flowers are closely bound up with each other. It’s contradictory. Not only us, in the floral field, but also in all fields of human activity, we are arguing with ourselves about real necessities and environmental issues from various angles.
Following your extraordinary view on nature, what is your botanical sanctuary?
My passion lies in the flowers themselves and every day I meet different new flowers. As long as I am interacting with them my passion will never fade away. I see my sanctuary in a flower itself.
''Nothing is permanent in this world;
life comes and goes.
We Japanese find beauty in it,
through our five senses.''