In Bloom

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Roj Amedi

Azuma Makoto is a rene­gade in the art of flo­ral sculp­tures. In his haute cou­ture Tokyo based flo­ral shop, Jardins des Fleurs, Azuma cre­ates ab­stract forms and grand flo­ral struc­tures. His work has at­tracted cov­eted brands and in­di­vid­u­als de­voted to his ar­ti­sanal skills. Azuma first es­tab­lished his flower business in 2002, and later founded an ex­per­i­men­tal lab­o­ra­tory Azuma Makoto Kaju Kenkyusho (AMKK) mean­ing Azuma Makoto Botan­i­cal Re­search In­sti­tute. Here he ex­plores new and in­no­va­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tions of flow­ers and plants, mix­ing flora with jux­ta­pos­ing con­texts. Wrest­less with the lack of space suit­able for his ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and want­ing to ex­plore his own meth­ods, Azuma opened gallery AMPG in 2007. Giv­ing him­self two years to fo­cus on the project with an aim to pro­duce one piece per month, AMPG was to be­come a ma­jor cat­a­lyst for his fu­ture sculp­tures. Neue Lux­ury took some time to un­cover how he con­tin­ues to rein­vig­o­rate and rein­ter­pret the con­cept of flora in art and sculp­ture.

ROJ AMEDI: How do you draw in­spi­ra­tion from flow­ers? How do flow­ers com­mu­ni­cate with you on both a sen­so­rial and spir­i­tual level? AZUMA MAKOTO: What I as­pire to do is to cap­ture and rep­re­sent the ever chang­ing beauty of flow­ers and plants from their birth to death. I be­lieve I can re­ceive in­spi­ra­tion from them by touch­ing and feel­ing the sub­tle changes ev­ery day. RA: Does your ap­proach dif­fer be­tween your own pri­vate works, gen­eral com­mis­sions through Jardins des Fleurs and your brand col­lab­o­ra­tions? How so? AM: When I work on my pri­vate works, there is just me and flow­ers and no com­pro­mise. On the other hand, when I work with busi­nesses and the like to cre­ate com­mer­cial art or col­lab­o­rate with brands, I make a con­scious ef­fort to equally rep­re­sent all the play­ers in­volved: the client, flow­ers and me. When you man­age to find a place where they can co­ex­ist in har­mony, you can cre­ate some­thing quite dif­fer­ent from your pri­vate pieces, and I find that ex­pe­ri­ence very in­spi­ra­tional and full of new dis­cov­er­ies. Com­mis­sions through the bou­tique are much smaller and more per­sonal, but they still have the same el­e­ments of client, flow­ers and me. I try to rep­re­sent the client’s mes­sage while keep­ing all el­e­ments in equi­lib­rium. RA: How has Jardins des Fleurs evolved since its in­cep­tion? Has your prac­tice and meth­ods changed sig­nif­i­cantly? AM: I do not think Jardins des Fleurs has changed in a ma­jor way since open­ing. It re­mains con­sis­tent with the orig­i­nal haute cou­ture flower bou­tique con­cept. How­ever, I am al­ways look­ing for and ex­per­i­ment­ing with new tech­niques and meth­ods. I have changed the kinds of flow­ers I use and also leaf works that sur­round them. As to the gen­eral taste, I tried ar­rang­ing flow­ers more ran­domly than I had done be­fore, in a way that is dif­fer­ent from group­ing (a method of plac­ing flow­ers in groups of the same cat­e­gory). We are con­stantly at­tempt­ing to break down, go be­yond, and re-build our style to find new meth­ods. I think this process is in­dis­pens­able in or­der to keep of­fer­ing fresh ideas to my clients. RA: Your col­lab­o­ra­tions with the likes of Her­mès, Dries Van Noten, Boucheron and Pierre Hermé have en­abled a dif­fer­ent man­i­fes­ta­tion of your work, whether through il­lus­tra­tion, in­te­rior de­sign, graph­ics or ex­hi­bi­tions and in­stal­la­tions. How were you first ap­proached to con­trib­ute to these projects? Were you al­ready con­nected to these brands? AM: It was dif­fer­ent for each project. Her­mès is one of my old­est clients and I have been pro­vid­ing flower ar­range­ments for their Ginza Mai­son and many boutiques across Ja­pan for many years. As for Dries Van Noten, Dries per­son­ally con­tacted me and asked for my con­tri­bu­tion to the project. In ev­ery case, I de­cided to col­lab­o­rate with these brands based on whether I deeply agreed with and re­spected the brands val­ues, what they ex­pressed and their spir­i­tu­al­ity. RA: What are the val­ues and spir­i­tu­al­ity that you best con­nect to and look for in your part­ner­ships? AM: I try to un­der­stand whether they have pas­sion and re­spect for crafts­man­ship, and whether they are earnestly search­ing for ways to share their vi­sion with their cus­tomers. I look for part­ners with spir­i­tu­al­ity, who seek to make an im­pact or pro­vide hos­pi­tal­ity to peo­ple, and who want to cre­ate an emo­tional con­nec­tion in­stead of mere mass pro­duc­tion. RA: What was the idea be­hind es­tab­lish­ing and open­ing gallery AMPG? AM: I came up with the idea when I was look­ing for lo­ca­tions to ex­per­i­ment with and ex­hibit my work. Dur­ing that pe­riod there weren’t many spa­ces like that in Ja­pan, so I de­cided that I should cre­ate one my­self. I wanted it to be a space where we could deal with the chang­ing state of flow­ers on our own from blooming to death. Also, I wanted to do it prop­erly, if I was go­ing to do it at all. That is why I set a time­frame of two years. RA: How did you sus­tain the com­mit­ment to pro­duce a piece ev­ery month dur­ing the two-year life span of AMPG? AM: It was not easy, but luck­ily I was al­ways sur­rounded by plants and flow­ers and was in­ter­act­ing with them 365 days a year. They in­spired so many ideas. I was al­ways try­ing to fig­ure how best to rep­re­sent and ex­press the flora, and then how to in­cor­po­rate them into larger works. I learned so much in those two years by ex­per­i­ment­ing with var­i­ous plants, and it cer­tainly broad­ened my think­ing and per­spec­tives as an artist. RA: What was the big­gest les­son for you and your stu­dio dur­ing this two-year pe­riod? AM: The ex­pe­ri­ence from this pe­riod broad­ened my per­spec­tives and pro­vided the in­spi­ra­tion for fu­ture projects. In that sense, it was a great op­por­tu­nity for me to re­dis­cover and ce­ment my par­tic­u­lar style. I’m never sat­is­fied and con­stantly re­peat the process of com­plet­ing pieces, break­ing them down, think­ing, and then try­ing new phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions of an idea. Some of the things I tried at AMPG did not work well, and some of the ideas guided me through later projects. I think I was chas­ing af­ter the sen­sa­tion of pro­duc­ing bet­ter work by con­stantly chal­leng­ing my­self. RA: Your work in­volves botan­i­cal in­stal­la­tions that typ­i­cally take flora out of a nat­u­ral con­text and of­ten jux­ta­poses it with ma­te­ri­als such as metal, glass and ice—in a way dis­rupt­ing the con­nec­tion to land and soil. What is your over­all in­tent here? AM: Plants are beau­ti­ful and com­plete as they are in their nat­u­ral sur­round­ings, so if we are go­ing to al­ter them, it has to be done in a way that cre­ates a dif­fer­ent kind of beauty. That is why I vis­ually dis­con­nect them from the soil by ex­pos­ing their roots or com­bin­ing them with pros­thetic ma­te­ri­als. My in­ten­tion is to cre­ate a sharp con­trast be­tween nat­u­ral beauty and ar­ti­fi­cial beauty, which ac­tu­ally gives flora an op­por­tu­nity to shine through in a unique way. My work is not an at­tempt to give them some­thing or ex­tend their lives, but to present them in a way that high­lights ev­ery mo­ment of their nat­u­ral life cy­cles from var­i­ous per­spec­tives, and to bring out their beauty. RA: Are all flow­ers cre­ated equal or do they live within a hi­er­ar­chy? AM: I think it de­pends on which as­pect you are look­ing at. I would like to be­lieve that just like human lives, all the flow­ers that are born to this world are equal and have the same value, no mat­ter how small they are. RA: What flow­ers are you us­ing for your in­stal­ments? And how do you de­cide on what flow­ers to use? AM: It re­ally de­pends on each project. For Exo­biotan­ica, I cre­ated a bou­quet with flow­ers from all over the world and sent it up to space. For the Philip­pines project, we used a broad se­lec­tion of lo­cal he­li­co­nia. I choose the main va­ri­eties and their com­po­si­tion de­pend­ing on the con­cept and method I am us­ing. RA: Could you take us through one of your most re­cent trips to the Ama­zon? Have you been able to con­nect with lo­cal peo­ple and spe­cial­ists? Or do you im­merse your­self on your own? AM: We planned the project in the Ama­zon our­selves. A friend of mine who lives in Manaus helped co­or­di­nate the trip. It was of course a com­pletely un­known world to me, but for­tu­nately I met this lo­cal botanist, who had lived in the Ama­zo­nian for­est their en­tire life, who agreed to be my guide. The for­est was fierce and brim­ming with life. It makes you feel like you would be eaten alive if you stopped mov­ing. Whilst there I worked with plants that were in­dige­nous to the area, cre­ated pieces and then took pho­to­graphs. It was a very sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence. I felt as if I was ar­rang­ing flow­ers in a vase called the Earth. It is not easy to do projects like this while run­ning a flower bou­tique, but we would like to stay true to our own style and meth­ods that no one else shares. RA: What projects are on the hori­zon? AM: I have been trav­el­ing around the world on a project called In Bloom since last year. The ba­sic idea is to place flower ar­range­ments in places where no plant or flower can ex­ist. For the first in­stal­ment, we went to the Black Rock Desert in Ne­vada, USA and sent up some plants into space (strato­sphere). Then we went to the Philip­pines to cre­ate an enor­mous float­ing sculp­ture made of flow­ers off the shores of the Ne­gros Is­land. I in­tend to con­tinue work­ing on this project. There are al­ready some new in­stall­ments in progress all over the world such as Dal­las, New York, and we even have one planned in France.

I love see­ing plants from all over the world with my eyes and touch­ing them with my hands. It gives me so much in­spi­ra­tion and I would like to ex­press it in a new form that is dif­fer­ent from their nat­u­ral state, to in­cite a new per­spec­tive and value.

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