‘Sometimes people say my work is newfangled or strange, but I just express plant life in the way that I think is most beautiful.’
There has long been crossover between the worlds of flowers and fashion. These two distinct fields are united by their often meticulous presentations of beauty, and an inherent ephemeral quality which further enhances their allure.
Recently we have seen striking florals in the Liberty x Uniqlo collaboration and on the Comme Des Garçons Homme Plus runway. Perhaps most magnificent of all, however, was Japanese artist Azuma Makoto’s vibrant window installation at Parisian concept store, Collete.
The acclaimed artist never loses sight of the simple beauty in plant life, even while taking his stunning, flower-themed installations from the depths of the Amazonian jungle to the literal edges of space…
How did you come to be so interested in using plants and flowers to express your ideas?
I came to Tokyo aspiring to be a musician, but I wasn’t able to make a living from music alone. So I began a part-time job, which happened to be as a middle trader at a flower market. I was obsessed with the expressions and allure that flowers display in each moment. That slowly drew me into this field.
Your EXOBIOTANICA project sent earthly plant life and flowers to the edge of space. What was the concept behind this piece?
I went to the Amazon in Brazil a few years ago and created art pieces with plants that were full of life in this dense forest, where I could hear the groaning of the earth. This was a mind-blowing experience. I felt that I was arranging the plants onto the earth.
For the EXOBIOTANICA project, one of my sources of inspiration was curiosity. I asked myself, “what would happen if I arranged plants off the planet, up in the sky?” As a concept, it was completely the opposite of what I did in Brazil. I was glad to have the opportunity to do such a thing
So is there a ‘next stage’ to the EXOBIOTANICA project?
As the stage to present my works has already moved from the earth (Amazon, Brazil) to the sky (EXOBIOTANICA), I would like to try various other situations such as the bottom of the sea, a volcano, the Arctic and the Antarctic, to see what kind of expressions flowers and plants would display. I’m excited just thinking about these challenging environments!
Both EXOBIOTANICA and ‘Iced Flowers' took plants/flowers and put them in 'alien' (even hostile) environments. Despite this, the flowers still seem bursting with life. Is this something you set out to achieve, or is the aesthetic beauty of the plants a happy side effect of the ideas you are exploring?
I like to find expressions that even flowers or plants themselves have never imagined, so as to stimulate the viewer’s creativity and to pursue new possibilities. Flowers and plants in nature are already beautiful and precious, but I believe that it is my mission to heighten their value by further “planting” them into people’s minds. Sometimes people say my work is newfangled or strange, but I just express plant life in the way that I think is most beautiful.
Can you tell us a little about the ‘Petal Box’ installation you created for Colette and the ideas behind it?
One of the most beautiful moments is when flowers are in full bloom, just before they die. We decided to put almost-finished blooms into bottles and capture their beauty, along with other aspects.
We will actually build a new Petal Box in Paris this weekend. It will take around six hours to set up, but before that we are making 10,000 bottles of flowers over the next four days. The original Petal Box for Colette was cubic, but this time we designed a wider shape to fit the Colette window.
Did the fact that Colette is a 'fashion' retail space, rather than a straight art gallery, have any effect on the work you created?
Sarah, one of the directors at Colette, is very creative and open to new things, and [she commissioned me to do my first] window at Colette 10 years ago. Because of this existing relationship with Sarah, it was very easy to work on this installation.
Do you enjoy working across other creative industries, such as the fashion industry? Do you think there is something about flowers that is appealing to both art and fashion minds?
When I am commissioned to work on a project, no matter what kind of project it is, I first have meetings with the client in order to understand their ideas deeply. Then I think about how I can express the beauty that plants and flowers have, while meeting the client’s needs at the same time. I follow the same process for every project, from a small bouquet for an individual to a project with a big budget. I believe flowers are an eternal motif that spans many fields, including fashion, and has recurred throughout history.
What other upcoming projects are you working on? Do they focus on flowers as well?
We’ve opened a gallery space and will be exhibiting new works there sometimes. We are also planning many other projects and working with fashion brands such as Fendi.
I want to continue bringing out the charms that flowers and plants have; to express them and enhance their values. Also, I would like to keep creating pieces that expand the possibilities of plants, and to have many people look at them around the world.
Do you have a favourite flower or plant?
I do not have a favourite. To me, every one of them has its own beauty and is attractive.
Do you like to give flowers as gifts? What is it about flowers that you think make them such popular gifts and such happy objects to have at home and work?
Giving flowers alone is not important; rather, the time you spend thinking
about the person who will see the arrangement and the location where it will be seen is what matters.
I think that displaying and giving flowers can certainly help us to enrich our hearts and lifestyle, even when it’s not visible. I would be delighted if more people come to appreciate flowers on a daily basis.
Find out more about Azuma Makoto.
(This interview was edited for clarity and length)
Photo credit: © shiinoki / AMK