Purple Magazine
— The Future Issue #37 S/S 2022

makoto azuma


interview by ALEPH MOLINARI

japanese botanical sculptor makoto azuma treats flower art with a cyberpunk attitude. he sends his explosive bouquets into space, to the bottom of the ocean, and to other extreme environments, like idyllic messages for the future.

ALEPH MOLINARI — How does your art incarnate a punk ideology?
MAKOTO AZUMA — To me, punk is a way of life — and, of course, music is also a way of life. Punk and music both have the power to break the status quo. Music and art destroy the modern lifestyle, and in destroying it, they seek out new possibilities. The punk attitude and spirit that were present in my music haven’t changed and are now expressed through my botanical work.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Is creative destruction necessary to the process of creating your botanical sculptures?
MAKOTO AZUMA — It’s about giving life to flowers in an artistic form first, but their life doesn’t end there. I never destroy the flowers I use to create my installations. Once the sculptural life of the flower has ended, I give the flowers back to the community or decorate other places with them. Of course, there’s an element of sustainability, but it’s truly about reflecting on life and joy, even after the installations are disassembled. Giving the flowers back to the community is the true beauty of my botanical sculptures.

ALEPH MOLINARI — So, it goes from the punk to the communal. Is the community aspect always important to your work?
MAKOTO AZUMA — Definitely. Community is what I value most in my life right now. My vision is to expand the scale of the botanical sculptures to 15 meters [49 feet] in order to further emphasize giving back to the community. My new project, The Max, will begin next year. The essence of the project is to expand my mission, with no limit in sight.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Why is decontextualizing plants by bringing them to inhospitable locations — to outer space, the bottom of the ocean, an ice field, or ruins — a central part of your work?
MAKOTO AZUMA — The work you are referring to is called In Bloom Project. In that project, I wanted to bring flowers into places where they would never exist naturally and to explore a new kind of beauty and expression. I also wanted to put flowers in places where people have never seen them before, such as outer space or the bottom of the ocean, to explore new dimensions and see how people react to seeing flowers in these new realities. I also wanted to see how the flowers would react to such environments and how they might show new possibilities of expression and survival. It’s about showing the unknown beauty and potential of flowers to human beings.

ALEPH MOLINARI — How did the concept of Exobiotanica come about? How did you develop the idea of decontextualizing flowers, taking them out of their environment in order to give them a new meaning?
MAKOTO AZUMA — Ever since I was a child, I have always been interested in outer space. Later, I started to envision how my botanical art would translate in outer space, where no living creature exists. I simply wanted to see what would happen if I took flowers to outer space, to see what new expressions of beauty I would find by doing this. I am always thinking about the different possibilities of where flowers can bloom. Nowadays, people from all over the world have an interest in doing something in space.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Are your paludariums — the tanks where you create living environments for plants — a way of creating independent botanical systems that could be exported to other planets?
MAKOTO AZUMA — That’s actually the original concept of the Paludarium series. Paludariums originated when people from England wanted to export flowers to Australia, so they had to figure out a way to safely transport the flowers and protect them from potential salt damage. So, yes, I do have a vision of translating the original concept of the paludariums into places like outer space, to protect the flowers and create a barrier for them to live.

ALEPH MOLINARI — A life case.
MAKOTO AZUMA — Yes. It comes from the same idea of wanting to take living ecosystems to a place where people have never seen them before.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Would you like to take your paludariums to another planet?
MAKOTO AZUMA — Possibly. But I do believe that the things on Earth belong to Earth, although visually it would be interesting to send the paludariums to the moon or Mars, if possible.

ALEPH MOLINARI — What are your concerns about the environment today? As a floral artist and botanical sculptor, how do changes in the environment affect your work?
MAKOTO AZUMA — The destruction of biodiversity is something that I think about often, since I work with real flowers. It’s been 25 years since I began working with flowers, and the environment has completely changed during that time. I first noticed it from the changes in the seasonality of flowers. There are more unattainable flowers now, but there are also flowers that I can now get due to global warming. The strong flowers and plants have survived, and the fragile and delicate ones are either already gone or are not going to be able to survive. Many are no longer available in the flower markets. This just might be the natural course of nature, the way it’s supposed to be, like the extinction of the dinosaurs. But from an environmental point of view, I see that these changes have been rapidly happening for the past 20 years.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Do these concerns change the way you create your botanical sculptures?
MAKOTO AZUMA — The most important thing for me to create my artwork is to use real flowers. For the past two years, I wasn’t able to travel because of the pandemic, but starting this year, I’m going to travel to make my artwork. And in each place, I’m going to use local flowers and plants to create unique art specific to that location. As we move forward, and the environmental issues continue to get worse, all I can really do is try to spread positivity through my sculptures and portray the truth of the situation. As the availability of certain flowers changes because of climate issues, people will see the changes in my sculptures as well. Showcasing that change will be part of my mission, and it’s definitely important to me for the future.

ALEPH MOLINARI — In some of your installations, you incorporate technology in the form of life systems and plant interconnections. What is your approach to using technology in conjunction with plants and flowers?
MAKOTO AZUMA — When I incorporate technology into my artwork, it’s not something that I do actively. I think about what is accessible to create my artwork, and technology is naturally used. Flowers have such a long history, and it’s natural to incorporate the elements that we see in the present day to showcase them. It’s simply about using what I can to best display flowers and move people with my art. It’s about finding balance and using technology to create art that will mean something to people.

ALEPH MOLINARI — The punk ideology says that there’s no future. How do you envision the future?
MAKOTO AZUMA — Right now, humans are being challenged in their relationships with nature, gender, and inequality. Perhaps we’ve been too greedy with our desires. The pandemic made us finally pause and reflect on ourselves and our surroundings. Not all of us have been damaging nature, but it has come to the point where we have to reconsider how we face nature and live on Earth. Human beings need to coexist with nature because we cannot live without it. We humans are nature, and we have to flow as nature flows. The future will be determined by how nature flows, and from that, we will consider how we should live. I want to raise questions that make people aware of how we deal with flowers and nature, in order to decide how we are going to live our lives.

ALEPH MOLINARI — So, for you, nature will determine how the future unfolds?
MAKOTO AZUMA — Right. Since the Industrial Revolution in England, people have just continued to produce and produce, and it changed the way humans are. Human beings became monsters, creating things that did not exist previously in nature. We need to reconnect with nature because without it, we cannot live. This is something that I felt while living in Tokyo. But when I go to Mexico, I feel that people there are grounded and live in a way humans are meant to live in the context of their environment. I really feel it when I go there: how people care for the environment and how connected they are with nature. People who are truly connected with nature will become the leaders of the world who will change the future.

ALEPH MOLINARI — So, societies that have less technology are going to live closer to nature?
MAKOTO AZUMA — Not necessarily. I feel like those countries where people value the connection with nature will be the ones that will lead in how we should live in the future. It might be that those places are historically connected to nature by a special language. In some countries like Mexico, Japan, or Indonesia, people value the connection with nature and understand how we should live in the future.

ALEPH MOLINARI — How are you pushing the limits of your expression with flowers? What projects are you working on right now?
MAKOTO AZUMA — I have been working on various projects, outside of the larger ones like my project The Max. Recently, I have been working on a project using X-rays to explore the inner details of flowers. I’ve also started growing flowers again, which I used to do 10 years ago. In my upcoming projects, my goal is to use the flowers that I grow myself.

ALEPH MOLINARI — The future can bring new and almost mythological varieties of flowers. Are you excited about the idea of using genetic modification to create flowers that don’t exist yet?
MAKOTO AZUMA — I am not really interested in creating artwork using flowers that are not naturally created, but I do have an interest in the digital world and creating digital flowers. I’m creating a virtual flower shop where people can purchase digital bouquets and gift them to others. They do not exist in real life, but they exist in the digital realm.

ALEPH MOLINARI — How are they manifested? Can you print them? Is it a hologram or an NFT?
MAKOTO AZUMA — Yes, it’s actually an NFT [non-fungible token]. So, whoever buys the right to the NFT can resell or reprint the artwork on a t-shirt or in whatever medium they want. I’m thinking of offering my NFTs at a reasonable price, as if you were buying a real flower at the flower market, so it’s truly accessible to most people. These are the new flowers.



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The Future Issue #37 S/S 2022

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