08 Dec 2018 • Book
A Japanese flower artist turns disposed plants into botanical sculptures
Born in 1976, Makoto Azuma opened his first flower shop, Jardin des Fleurs, in 2002. Bouquets can be ordered on-demand, but not a single flower is on display in the store. Inventing the genre of the ‘botanical sculpture,’ Azuma arranges plants and flowers in an expressive way, so as to show the energy of living plants.
Besides making floral arrangement for clients, the artist runs his experimental botanical lab Azuma Makoto Kaju Kenkyusho (AMKK), where he explores the potential of plants that are being disposed of. Azuma works closely with photographer Shunsuke Shiinoki, who documents his work.
In an interview extracted from our book Where They Create: Japan [on sale here], Azuma discusses the initial reaction to his shop location, the spiritual side of his line of work and how flowers are like wine.
What attracts you to flowers as a medium to work with?
MAKOTO AZUMA: To me, flowers are energy. Plants are living things, they are never static. They are ever-changing. Once a plant is cut from its root, it no longer grows but only deteriorates. I am honoured to be given that precious moment from the start of the deterioration of the plant, to give its life a final expression.
Looking at some of the photographs of your works, I sense a baroqueness of light and shadow.
You are right. For the past few years I intentionally had photos taken that emphasise the vividness of a flower against the darkness. I used what I call Rembrandt light for the shoots, as I wanted to express the transient life of the plant by contrasting it with the darkness of death, that inevitably is imminent in short time. Every day I touch and look at plants. I can’t deny their impermanence and I want to treasure their life by highlighting it.
What is your typical day like?
I usually walk to my flower shop and atelier from my house, which takes me about 40 minutes. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday my day starts very early at 4:00 in the morning, as I go to the flower market to select flowers for the day.
At around 8:00 I return to the atelier with flowers and I immediately start cutting the edges of the stalk with scissors as I put them in water. This is so they can absorb water faster and better. This process is very important to extend their life, and I sharpen the scissors every day.
We return from the market with a filled four-ton truck, so you can imagine how many plants we are taking with us. It is really important that we respect those precious lives, and cutting them is actually a very serene moment.
If I were living in the countryside, surrounded by mountains and forests, I wouldn’t get emotional when creating something out of plants
Your approach is very much Japanese. Is it rooted in Shintoism?
The process of cutting the plants has a spiritual importance that I take quite seriously. The Japanese respect [the idea] that there are spiritual deities in plants.
Your shop is in the basement; no one can see the flowers from the outside. Are you keeping them out of sight on purpose?
People thought I was mad when I opened a shop in the basement, but plants are best kept where we can maintain a consistent temperature and level of humidity throughout the year. In that sense, plants are like wine. From my experience of dealing with flowers for 19 years, I have learnt and built up my own theory on the ideal environment to keep plants at their best. As humans, we can just come in and work and leave and we can move around, but plants don’t have legs or wings, so they can’t move.
The shop is located in the heart of Tokyo, in the Aoyama area surrounded by the most fashionable retail stores. Does this environment influence your creations?
I think if I were living in the countryside, surrounded by mountains and forests, I wouldn’t get emotional when creating something out of plants – there is already enough offered by Mother Nature there. Because I am in the heart of an urban city with concrete and polished architecture, I feel empowered to create something very different.
As for creativity, being in Tokyo is great, as the city has one of the largest flower markets in the world, after the Netherlands. The flower market in Tokyo has an abundant array of plants and flowers on offer.
This interview was originally featured in Where They Create: Japan, our book on creative studios. With forewords by Tyler Brûlé and Nicola Formichetti, it is available for purchase in the Frame web store – currently with a 35 per cent discount due to our holiday sale.