Azuma Makoto is a florist and botanical artist, known for incorporating nature into his fantastical and often surreal work. Two years ago, he made headlines for launching a bouquet of flowers and a bonsai tree into space. Now, Chamber gallery in New York is featuring a selection of Makoto's work for their fifth capsule collection.
Makoto discovered his love of flowers after moving to Tokyo to pursue rock music, and instead landing a job as a trader at the flower market. "At my job at the market, I was surprised at how many flowers there were in the world and how much people thought of them as a necessity," Makoto writes in an email. "I was also fascinated by the various expressions shown by the flowers as they spun through the cycle of blooming and withering away."
So he learned ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, and in 2002 opened his own high-end floral shop in Tokyo, JARDINS des FLEURS. There Makoto started selling gifts, wedding arrangements, and boutique decorations with his business partner, the photographer Shunsuke Shiinoki. He also began experimenting using flora as a living medium for more artistic endeavors, and his Botanical Sculptures were born.
"Since plants and flowers are most beautiful the closer they are to their natural state, I believe that there is no meaning in what I do if I don’t use my hands to create something even more beautiful and more impactful," says of his Botanical Sculptures.
In 2009, Makoto opened the experimental botanical lab, Azuma Makoto Kaju Kenkyusho (AMKK) as a space to create more of the floral art pieces for which he was beginning to become known. It was through AMKK that he created the SHIKI series, where he intentionally puts flowers and plants into places they would never be seen naturally.
Exobiotanica—the project that launched a Japanese white pine bonsai and a bouquet of orchids, lilies, hydrangeas, irises into the stratosphere—arose out of that. Makoto worked with Sacramento-based JP Aerospace, a company that specializes in space vessels, to send them up with six GoPro cameras in a ball so they could capture surreal 360-degree photos of the floating plants.
Those photos will be on display at the exhibition along with a few of his earlier projects, including his Botanical series, a sofa, table, and bicycle completely covered in astroturf. The show also introduces his latest work, a series of small sculptures made from polypores—shelf-like fungi that grow on old tree trunks—and metals like gold, platinum, and copper.
Makoto traveled all across Japan to forage for the polypores, which harden like wood as soon as they're removed from their natural environment. Unlike his other works, the pieces in this new series have a permanence to them—they won't wither and die like the Botanical Structures. "Polypores are something that I’ve always been interested in enough to collect myself," says Makoto. "I feel they can steal the heart of its viewers with their complex and winding structure."
All Photos: Shiinoki Shunsuke