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The Incredible 10-year Journey of Azuma Makoto’s Bonsai Tree

Shunsuke Shiinoki

Until December 5, Dallas’ Zhulong Gallery hosts Shiki: Landscape and Beyond, an exhibition of sculpture and photographic works by floral sculptor Azuma Makoto. Suspended mid-air, a 5-foot ‘timeless pine tree’ encapsulated by an open steel frame organizes an invisible axis in the gallery.  A series of large-format photographs, shot by Azuma’s collaborator Shunsuke Shiinoki, illustrates the nearly ten year journey of a bonsai tree around, and above, the globe.


From derelict government spaces, to sublime landscapes, Azuma conflates notions of landscape, portraiture, and still life traditions in western art to set up a striking bricolage of nature, artifice, and time which speaks clearly to eastern motifs in art. The exhibition includes new photographs of the shiki in extreme landscapes that these plants would never naturally occur as well as documentary footage in a digital format.


Azuma’s practice investigates and attenuates the limits of the life cycle, while also asking in what other contexts can and should the botanical sculptures appear? Suspending the living natural object within the rigid, but open box, Makoto sets up a metaphor for how he sees our relationship to the natural world—an incomplete attempt to grasp at the seeming eternity.


Seemingly a nod to momento mori, the artists’ framing of the tree with its exposed roots, living trunk, and hand-made resin leaves, unifies the natural and artifice, and creates a tense situation for viewing. Azuma goes beyond, however, and celebrates the eventual demise of the flora he sculpts. Not a warning, his creations are a celebration of the passage of time.


With such a reserved hand, Azuma has created a work that takes command over any space it is installed in. The open cubic frame proposing the basis for architecture, and enclosed space, but the lifeform suspended within it offering a means for enchantment, contemplation. Fully illustrating the unison of art and technology through design, Azuma offers a vessel and floral sculpture originating somewhere in the ikebana tradition, but going beyond, and pushing the medium outside prior limits.

In Azuma’s noteworthy Exobiotanica series, he floated shiki I into the stratosphere, capturing the journey in thousands of images. These galactic snapshots of the sculpture propose an ethereal almost spiritual journey that begs the association of the work and its journeys with the life of the sculptor, and ours as well.

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all images © Shunsuke Shiinoki | courtesy of Zhulong Gallery