AZUMA MAKOTO
CHAMP ISSUE #7
Interview
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Combining a respect for nature and his personal passion and intrigue for exploring the potential of flora, Azuma Makoto is a Tokyo-based florist and floral artist. With his flower shop in Aoyama, titled Jardin des Fleurs, and his numerous personal projects, Azuma's intelligence and intrigue for exploring natural beauty from our environment, extends beyond the traditional.

We first came across his work in Melbourne, that was part of Broached Commissions' 'Broached East' exhibition that featured his terrarium titled 'Paludarium Shigelu'. Broached East focussed on trade between Asia and Australia, with Azuma's response a bonsai encased in an aluminium and glass Wardian Case, illustrating the fascinating history behind the transportation of plants.
In awe, we discovered his passionate work ranges from collaborations with photographer Daido Moriyama, and work presented at Fondation Cartier, Paris and artist Shinro Ohtake just to name a few.
Azuma borders sculptural exploration through colours and textures of plants, to scientific work, creating insightful work with the most fascinating intelligence and research behind it.
Through his own words, we are reminded that "Plants can survive without human beings, but we cannot survive without plants" We were delighted to speak with him about his work, delving a little more into his intrigue about the medium of delicate nature that he is so passionate about.

Firstly, when you work with each plant species, what do you look for? Beauty, accessibility, longevity, affordability?

AM: Since plants are living creatures, of course I do pay my respects expects, (perhaps this is a concept that Japanese people have), but they cannot respond to what I feel for them, so my job is to capture the moment of their beauty, and with it express what they have. That's my main focus when I work with the plants.

It is up to the perspective for somethings beauty. But solely is it beautiful, or in a group? And which has the most importance of beauty...?

AM: It really depends on the work, but because I arrange the flowers, I am creating a new type of beauty there, or the work there. For example, plants living in a hot or cold climate don't exist together, but by arranging them I'm making a new expression, or new work and for me, I think this beauty. This is an expression that I can do, creating a work with plants and flowers, it is more like creating a whole new world. Of course, sometimes they match completely or other times they show a different expression that I didn't expect at all, exceeding my expectation and making it very interesting. It's kind of like painting on canvas, you can't predict the results, so I think it's more interesting.

In Japan, I find the harmony between nature, architecture and life is prominent, rich with history of ikebana (flower arranging) and bonsai. Here, it seems there is a big understanding of incorporating these elements into your life. What is the understanding of floristry, and the awareness of floristry in Japan?

AM: The way that people are treating and enjoying bonsai is changing. It is now a more casual, tiny tree that is very easy to grow. Before, bonsai was considered a little serious and ridged, but now it adjusts more to one's lifestyle and schedule. Bonsai businesses are growing now too.. In a more contemporary sense, on Naoshima in Kagawa Preferecture, I worked together with an artist name Shinro Ohtake on the plants surrounding the sento bathhouse I Love You. Ohtake-san and I are friends, and proposed to work together on this project. In fact, the plants I collected for the bathhouse were from a Cactus GreenHouse in Miyazaki which was closing down. I even negotiated with the owner to buy the place, but it was too expensive! So I'm just waiting... nobody maintains it and so the plants are going wild! It was great timing that I happened to visit there, and I was happy to be able to install these abandoned plants to this project.The climate is quite similar in Naoshima and Miyazaki, so we took all the plants from there, to install in that Art Project.

So, through your works are you also aiming for a greater understanding for people with nature and the world...

AM: I hope the interest in plants and flowers is increased, through the eyes of another and my works. My work is 'planting green in anothers heart'. For children, they see my works and think about plants and flowers. I hope in the future they think about protecting the plants environment too. But more hands-on work, actually touching plants. In 20-30 years, the relationship between people and plants will deepen, and they will have to think about how to communicate together better. Leading up to this process, is my mission to help nurture this. Plants can survive with- out human beings, but we cannot survive without plants.

What are some projects you are working on now? Or some unrealised projects you would like to begin?

AM: There are many things lined up, and also many ideas in my head. Coming up, I will be working on the Wall Green in Hong Kong, which is a Vertical Garden, and something in Shanghai will be completing in September and October.
I am also doing an indoor Vertical Garden in New York soon, which will be in the World Trade Centre. The Worlds Highest Garden - in the world! Not yet, but should be! Maybe there is somewhere higher already in Dubai. Also, we plan to collaborate at an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris.

Do you have any philosophies you want to explore in the future with your work?

AM: I want to create a Botanical Garden in the centre of Tokyo. A plant world. Of course I understand the issue of importing and exporting, to create this world. If I can forget these issues, I want to create more and incorporate some images and videos. I always discuss this kind of idea with Kenya Hara. Also, in August I am creating a new project in Fukushima,which will be a permanent exhibition, collaborating with some local students there.

Shiinoki is your long-time collaborator and photographer. What is the importance of a strong working relationship between two practices to strengthen both works?

AM: Flowers and plants don't last forever, so that's why we want to capture the beauty on photography. Shiinoki and I actually went to the same high school, so he has the same understanding of plants as me.

How important is it to live your life conscious of nature and the environment too? You are a proud owner of an electronic car, please tell us a little about your lifestyle.

AM: I have never had a day where I do not think about how I treat plants on this earth. In Tokyo, the environ- ment is changing rapidly every year, and the change will accelerate more from now on. As an individual, I always have a sense of awareness towards environ- mental issues. I visited the Amazon jungle in June and strongly felt that plants are indispensable for humans to live; yet their existence are no more or less than what they are. From clothing, food and housing, we are con- nected to plants in every aspect of life. As I borrow the lives of nature everyday, and treat these living creatures in my creation, I don't like to waste their lives. Thinking of such matter at all times, it was, for instance, very natural to select an electric vehicle.

We see you are the owner of well-worn shoes. What are your thoughts on consumption and product of longevity in today's mass consumerist society versus nature?

AM: It is simply because I like them and like to wear them for a long time. Living in the capitalistic society, consumption is our fate, and similarly common flower shops are bound to the same – purchase a large amount of flowers, display and store them, then discard when they are no longer valuable as commodities. I think about eliminating the loss of their lives from such system as much as possible, then elevate their values by transforming them to more beautiful entities. My order-made flower shop is also based on such thoughts.

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