Since the beginning of time, even during the age of cavemen, human beings have found ways to express their artistic sensibilities through various media in their environment. The cave paintings discovered by archaeologists, the murals and paintings made by Egyptians and Babylonians, up to the paper drawings and paintings on canvas that is the common medium of today, are all testaments of man’s creative innovation. As modernism influenced the arts, contemporary artists have found ways to use unconventional media and venues in their art. However, Japanese botanical sculptor and flower artist Makoto Azuma aspired to go beyond the boundaries of art by using outer space as the exhibition venue of his artwork.
The Story Behind Azuma’s Space Art
As an artist whose medium of expression is through flowers and plants, Makoto Azuma believed that showcasing the beauty of flowers and plants is not limited to table settings. To prove this idea, he has created two botanical art installation pieces that would be suspended into space. The project would emphasize the beauty and movement of the plants and the flowers even more as they are exhibited in the background of outer space. The first botanical installation was named “Shiki 1”. It was composed of a beautiful piece of Japanese white pine bonsai that has been attached to suspend from a metal frame. The second installation was an unnamed arrangement of flowers including irises, lilies, hydrangeas, and orchids. These out of the world art projects were launched into space last 2014 in the Black Rock Desert located outside of Gerlach, Nevada.
Azuma’s dream of exhibiting his plant art in space was made possible through a coordinated effort with a 10-person crew from JP Aerospace, which is based in Sacramento, California. The volunteer-run organization specializes in creating and sending vessels that will orbit in space. John Powell, the founder of the organization, commented on how Exobiotanica, Azuma’s project was inspired in the way it domesticates outer space by bringing familiar objects like plant life into it.
Launching Art into Space
The launching of Exobiotanica started very early in the morning of the launch, around 2 am. During this time, Makoto Azuma began building the botanical art installations that would be launched that day. He started first with the untitled flower arrangement where the colorful buds were tied securely to a six-rod axis. Azuma chose brightly colored flowers like burgundy heliconia, hydrangeas, and dahlias as they would contrast well with the darkness in space. Meanwhile, the 50 -year old white pine bonsai was kept moist in its unique box.
Powell’s team developed the launch devices from Styrofoam and a sturdy and light metal frame. Go Pro video cameras donated by Fuji Film were also attached to the devices to document the installations’ journey from the stratosphere and back to the ground. GPS trackers were also added to the launch devices so that their progress could be monitored.
Away 101, the JP Aerospace’s nickname for the device holding the white pine bonsai, managed to travel for 91,800 feet into the sky before the helium balloon that propelled it burst. While the Away 100 which held the flower installation reached 87,000 feet, the Away 101 did much better. Makoto Azuma described how the experience of launching his Exobiotanica was like fulfilling the dream of traveling in space.