|Flowers for Praying - Base Point of Makoto Azuma
|Written by Satoshi KOGANEZAWA
|Published: May 28 2009
On March 9, 2009, I visited AMKK (Makoto Azuma, Kaki Kenkyujo) and JARDINS des FLEURS, which had moved to Minami-Aoyama on January 11, 2009. My aim was to interview Makoto Azuma, who had held exhibitions at AMPG twenty-four times and had just finished his photographic exhibition entitled “AMPG vol.24+1”.
In AMKK, each of the spaces on the first level and on the first basement level is separate but features the colour silver, which gives me a solid image. The first basement floor is used as a flower shop. In the center of the floor, there is a huge refrigerator which is used for storing plants. On the wall, there are three blackboards which are used for writing ideas and noting the progress of Azuma’s activities. Therefore, this flower shop evokes for me a completely different image from that of ordinary flower shops. Using Azuma’s phrase, it is something like a butcher’s shop. Considering that the office and flower shop, which were located at Azabu-juban before moving, had a sedate image because of the antique building and furniture, the image of this new shop is very different from that of the previous one. The new shop seems to reflect Azuma’s consistent concept of looking on plants as living matter in which “blood” circulates, or which are “flesh” rather than “beautiful” substances or “pretty” things. I interviewed Azuma, who will soon hold his solo exhibition entitled “AMPG vol.25” at Mitsubishi-Jisho Art Gallery ARTIUM in Fukuoka, which is his hometown, about his two years at AMPG and his future activities.2
First, I would like to refer to his photographic exhibition entitled “AMPG vol.24+1 - Makoto Azuma and other 26 photographers”, which was held for only three days, from March 2, 2009 to March 4, 2009, immediately after the last AMPG exhibition entitled “rolling” [fig. 1] closed on March 1, 2009. In fact, “rolling” is the title of his work which was created using pine trees that were made to revolve at high speed. Azuma has asked photographers to take pictures of his works since he opened his private gallery in April 2007 and in this exhibition displays pictures of his works. The pictures were previously shown in a set of AMPG exhibitions and were taken by 26 photographers.*1
We could find many photos which had been taken by well-known photographers. Nonetheless, what was notable in this exhibition was the form of display. Until the last minute of this exhibition, I could not find anything in the back space of the gallery where “rolling” was located, with only its front side on display. As there were partitions in the back space, I thought that the staff were preparing for a photographic exhibition within the space. Nevertheless, when I visited on the opening day, March 2, there was still nothing on the wall. In the center of the space, there was a potted plant and some black thing on a white table, but I could not find anything other than these things and chairs in this exhibition hall. Therefore, I was very surprised to hear that the black thing was the subject of the exhibition. Azuma used acrylic panels to resemble papers, and he pasted photos and negatives on each of them and tied these panels together to make them look like a photo album. Thus, only one viewer at a time could look at this album. Also, this thick album gave us a heavy image which perhaps can be conveyed by saying the pages had to be “hefted” rather than “flipped over”. Did Azuma get this idea from the time when he was developing a plan of this exhibition?
Indeed, the form of display of this exhibition was completely different from that of ordinary photographic exhibitions, but, considering the nature of AMPG itself and its significance, it can be said that this was the perfect way of displaying the exhibits shown in this exhibition. And, as mentioned by Azuma, the display method was derived from the display style of AMPG where his works had been shown to viewers with great care. Azuma continued as follows:
Considering that the contents of photo album are printed photos, what viewers were doing in this exhibition may be similar to purchasing a photo album and looking at it on one’s desk at home. However, the photo album which was displayed in this exhibition was completely different from framed photos which are displayed in art museums and galleries in such a way that we cannot touch them, though they have in common the fact that they are unique items. Also, since there were various kinds of photographs which had been taken by many photographers, viewers could discover many different aspects. Therefore, in this exhibition, there was no hierarchy between photographers and viewers, and the photos played a role only as a time machine which would be used to remind viewers of Azuma’s works. Turning over the pages, viewers would remember that they had visited before.
The “LEAF MAN” (AMPG, May 2008, fig. 2) - this was the first work of Azuma’s that I saw. Since then, though for less than one year, I have been looking at his works and now I notice a significant change.
In AMPG, Azuma tried to show new aspects of various plants experimentally by using plants as the materials of his works. Let me give some examples. The series of “Shiki” (April 2007, March 2008, October 2008), which was created by using pine trees with a clear rule and concept, the series of “Botanical Sculpture” (February 2008, August 2008, fig. 3&4), which was made up by combining plants using bands and clips, “Damned Ikebana” (May 2007, fig. 5), which was created by combining waste materials, “The other side of Crazy RED” (July 2007, fig. 6), which was a red space, in which Azuma arranged flowers every morning during the exhibition term, and “The Catcher in the Datura” (October 2007, fig. 7), which was created in the form of a huge cage, in which Azuma imprisoned Datura which he had grown in his own field in Moriya, Ibaraki Prefecture. However, since creating the work entitled “Punk tank garden” (November 2008, fig. 8), Azuma’s motivation has changed. It seems that he has started to express his physical feelings rather than his thoughts. Azuma’s garden, which is a collection of his favorite potted plants, is a perfect symbol of what he is trying to achieve and is his starting point. There is no flower which is blown up or stored in vacuum packaging in his garden. I am afraid of being misunderstood if I say that that he no longer learns by his mistakes, but I would like to point out that he has been extending his consciousness, and uses his new insights in his creative activities.
A set of works created by Azuma, including “Punk tank garden” (November 2008), “Desolate” (December 2008, fig. 9), “hand vase” (January 2009, fig. 10), “umechan (January 2009, fig. 11) and “rolling” (February 2009), directly reflect Azuma’s inspiration or emotional responsiveness to plants. In “Desolate”, we found a single red gladiolus flower among the white ones in a huge refrigerator. That red flower represented Azuma’s memory and the scene within his brain. In “hand vase”, hands of dummies were used to resemble vases, and by this Azuma expressed our subtleties of emotion when we give flowers as a present. The Japanese apricot flowers which were depicted in the work, “umechan”, still remain in my heart because of their beauty. Through this work, Azuma simply showed viewers Japanese apricot flowers which gradually bloomed during the short exhibition term, from the end of January to the beginning of February, and he asked them to look at this work with candy in their mouths. In the work entitled “rolling”, pine trees revolved at high speed, accompanied by a deep bass sound, probably from the associated machinery.
Not long ago, Azuma could have been classified as an avant-garde flower arrangement artist, such as Sofu Teshigahara (1900 - 1979) and Yukio Nakagawa (1918 -). Although I have heard that Azuma said something negative about Teshigahara, he is sympathetic to the concept of Nakagawa’s works, as he expressed his respect for Nakagawa in his work, “Rip a go go” (June 2008, fig. 12), which was shown in AMPG. It seems that this experimental and avant-garde work links to an enthusiastic period at the beginning of the Showa Era in which Teshigahara and Yukio Nakagawa were active. Nevertheless, today, Azuma seems not to be classified in this way. Why? In the 60s, about half a century ago, avant-garde artists (including flower arrangement artists) often created works to try to answer a serious question, “What is art?”, and ultimately they reached a negative answer - denial of art itself/anti-art. Azuma’s works cannot be said to be connected with such a vague question or with artworks which were created to try to answer that question, since he creates works to express life itself rather than to settle issues of art.
All of Azuma’s works which were shown at AMPG, were created using living plants. Therefore, basically viewers could see them only in the exhibition site and they could only exist afterwards as memories. Also, the atmosphere and the scent of Kiyosumi-shirakawa, which viewers experienced while walking along the street to reach the gallery, would, without them realizing it, mix with the image of Azuma’s works which they held in their mind when looking at them. Therefore, Azuma’s works may be noted down in each viewer’s personal history, since the impressions of his works are different for individual viewers. Is this not the essential aspect of art? If artworks can be recorded or stored, they may be transmitted from one generation to the next. Besides the recorded works, however, there are other things which we should keep in our mind. On the one hand, the history of art can be described on a chronological basis, without extraneous personal information. On the other hand, there are a number of personal histories, namely, a number of works which each viewer wants to keep in their mind. Nobody can possess Azuma’s works. That is the reason we wish to keep them in our mind.4
In 2009, Azuma is going to participate in Shinro Ohtake’s project which will be held in Naoshima at the beginning of summer. After completing this project, he plans to start his project, AMGG (Makoto Azuma Guerrilla Gallery). AMGG is described as a movable gallery, in which Azuma shows viewers works created by using local plants, while traveling all over the world with a box-shaped tent which is two and a half meters in length. The first place will be Iceland, where he plans to use a local plant, moss, as a material of his works.
In 2010, Azuma plans to publish a large-sized (B3) art collection book, which will have 300 pages. He said, “It is not a magazine, so I have to enhance the quality of the photographs which are to be inserted in the book. I would like to complete this book even if it costs me my life”. I suppose he will do as he says. Needless to say, flowers are still blooming all over the world even though AMPG has closed. I am sure that Azuma will continue to arrange flowers as long as he lives. And also we can live with flowers as long as we have hope. In this sense, the closure of AMPG does not mean the end of Azuma’s creative activities.
Lastly, I would like to introduce Azuma’s statement, which seems to represent the relationship between Azuma and flowers clearly.
(Translated by Nozomi Nakayama)Notes
|Last Updated on October 11 2016