Artist Azuma Makoto Transports Bonsai Tree to Exotic Locales in Surreal Photo Series

A lone bonsai takes an incredible journey around the world.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Sanstone I (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.
Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Sanstone I (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.
Azuma Makoto, <em>Shiki I x Flygeyser I</em> (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Flygeyser I (2015).
Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

For ten years Azuma Makoto has crisscrossed the globe with an unusual travelling companion: a bonsai tree, photographed in all manner of unexpected locations to stunning effect.

The resulting images are the subject of “Shiki: Landscape and Beyond,” a new exhibition at Dallas’s Zhulong Gallery. While the photographs feature real bonsai trees, Azuma has sculpted a convincing facsimile of resin for display in the exhibition, which hangs suspended in the center of the gallery, appearing to float in midair.

Azuma Makoto, <em>Shiki I x Glacier I</em> (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Glacier I (2015).
Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

The botantical sculpture is presented inside an open steel frame that Azuma has dubbed the shiki. Azuma chose the bonsai due to their “strong sense of vitality as well as the natural beauty of having a number of twist and turns to its shape,” he told artnet News in an e-mail. The series looks to explore the beauty that lies in putting the “shiki in a barren place that typically does not support plants.”

Azuma even launched a bonsai tree up to the stratosphere—”an extremely challenging endeavor,” he admitted. “I used a time-lapse method of one shot per second, taking a huge number of sequential pictures at the harsh environment of negative 50 degrees Celsius” as the tree fell slowly back to earth.

Azuma Makoto, <em>Shiki I x Space</em> (2014) Photo: Azuma Makoto.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Space (2014)
Photo: Azuma Makoto.

To capture the dramatic images, the artist teamed with photographer Shunsuke Shiinoki, who documented the shiki‘s journey around the globe—no small task, given the physical challenges presented by Azuma’s chosen locations: “Shooting underwater with an underwater camera or on the freezing expanse of an iceberg, or in the middle of the sweltering desert,” he pointed out, is quite difficult.

A cross between landscape, still life, and portrait, each photo underscores the inherent fragility of life. “If I can have people experience a sense of beauty and opportunity in flora that they have never seen before, I would be very happy,” said Azuma.

See images from the series below.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Underwater I (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Underwater I (2015).
Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Abandoned Power Plant I (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Abandoned Power Plant I (2015).
Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Geyser III (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Geyser III (2015).
Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, installation view of "Shiki: Landscape and Beyond" at Zhulong Gallery (2015). Photo: Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, installation view of “Shiki: Landscape and Beyond” at Zhulong Gallery (2015).
Photo: Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Sand Dune I (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Sand Dune I (2015).
Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Waterfall I (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Waterfall I (2015).
Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Sand Dune III (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Sand Dune III (2015).
Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Destroyed Monument I (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Destroyed Monument I (2015).
Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Sanstone I (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Sanstone I (2015).
Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Geyser II (2015). Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto, Shiki I x Geyser II (2015).
Photo: Shunsuke Shiinoki, © Azuma Makoto, courtesy Zhulong Gallery.

Azuma Makoto’s “Shiki: Landscape and Beyond” will be exhibited at Zhulong Gallery from October 23–December 5, 2015.


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