The Japanese Artist Who Launched Flowers Into Outer Space
Japanese artist Makoto Azuma is known for creating poetic botanical sculptures, but the medium in which he works most intimately is time. “Flowers are about something more than just beauty. If you just wanted to see something beautiful, you can go out into nature,” he says in Flower Punk, an award-winning film about his work and life, now available for viewing as part of the The New Yorker Documentary series. In just under 30 minutes, director Alison Klayman captures the artist as he creates spectacular arrangements, and sets about photographing and filming their ephemerality as they wilt and decay, imparting the beauty of age. Azuma and his team even send their blooms into space, as with his 2014 piece “Exobiotanica.” Rigging a camera and a flower bomb to a weather balloon, documenting his terrestrial creation as it soars through the stratosphere, the artist simply wanted to “find out what kind of phenomenon [would occur] if we put plants where they don’t normally exist.” The result is, in a word, transcendent.
Earlier in his career, when exhibiting his works within the bounds of traditional galleries posed a challenge, Azuma opened his own, staging installations that presented plants and flowers encased in tanks of water, in vacuum-sealed bags, intertwined with metallic and ceramic sculptures, and in hanging arrangements alongside vegetables and the raw flesh of fish and meat. “I really value the punk spirit,” says Azuma, formerly a punk rock musician in his youth. “I don’t play an instrument, but I’m able to express myself, my ideas, with flowers.” To watch the artist in action is to observe how his meticulous, deft hand meets each bloom with equal parts care and urgency. “You can see flowers burn through their life at such a fast pace,” he says. “I want to keep up with it, but as I make an arrangement, it keeps changing and deforming… It’s like chasing the game of life.”