The art fixtures of Azuma Makoto combine botanical art with photography in a way that is both quizzical and strangely moving. The most recent offering from the Japanese artist is a series of unusual images which juxtapose the ancient art of bonsai with fleeting moments captured in photographs. His work consists primarily of a sculpture entitled Shiki I, which consists of a 50-year-old bonsai tree suspended within a cube-shaped frame. The artist has captured similar photographs in the past, but the newest show entitled ‘Shiki: Landscape and Beyond’ pushes the tiny suspended tree into fantastic new territories.
In order to capture the first first four photographs in this gallery, which are featured in the new exhibit, Makoto and his team traveled around the globe with the framed bonsai sculpture. Using a crane-like contraption, the tree-in-a-box has been dangled above an active geyser, where the sculpture is partially obscured by the density of the delicate mist.
The photographs seem minimalist in nature. Each wide angle shot is deceptive in its simplicity, taking the bonsai tree so far out of its context that it becomes quite a peculiar thing in itself. Makoto has spent the last decade traveling with his bonsai to capture images of the tree in unexpected places and although each image is its own work of art, there are also conversations between the pieces. Two images encapsulate starkly opposite climes – the ice waters of an Arctic glacier in one, and the dusty dunes of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert in another. Despite the vast differences in landscape and temperature, the two locales have one tiny but important point of overlap: both are equally foreign to the subject of the photographs, the bonsai.
Makoto’s motivations for this unlikely artform are metaphoric. The artist is seeking to represent the relationship between humans and our natural surroundings, by suspending the living natural object (the bonsai tree) within the confines of a rigid, yet open box. Makoto refers to this as an incomplete attempt to grasp at the seeming eternity.
The bonsai, which stands about five feet high inside the cubic frame, was previously captured in the last place anyone expects to see a bonsai tree: outer space. With the help of a weather balloon, the bonsai sculpture was lifted to the edge of space where an attached camera took a series of hauntingly beautiful images. These were captured in 2014 as part of a previous exhibit.
The Shiki I sculpture and photographs are on display at the Zhulong Dallas Contemporary Art Gallery in Dallas, Texas through December 5, 2015.
Images via Shunsuke Shiinoki for Azuma Makoto