hel·low (ˈhelō/) exclamation. A salutation embodying the vibrant energy found in the color yellow.

27 March 2013

Azuma Makoto & Pushing Plant Potential

Gardens are not the only venues to exhibit plants as a work of art. While many houseplants exist and conservatories with indoor botanical exhibits are growing in popularity, the true artistic potential of plants as a living medium for creative works is rarely expounded upon. The traditional display of plants can become tiring and uninspiring, as a single specimen of a series of plants is grouped together in an array of contrasting or complementary colors to elicit a desired aesthetic. Rather than display plants in potted soil or the natural setting of growing up from the earth, we should push for a radical change in display, pushing flora to its limits and expanding its potential as an artistic medium in a way not found in the natural world. Azuma Makoto cultivates the fullness of this idea.

Owner of JARDINS des FLEURS, a haute couture flower shop in Tokyo, Makoto specializes in both the artistic practice and client work of using trees, leaves, flowers, and moss to construct various pieces of art. While his customers receive state-of-the-art, highly customized floral arrangements to fit any form of their imagination, the embodiment of what Makoto can envision for his plants exists within his private work. Dozens of his displays have appeared around the world, each with a unique intent, from suspended trees to floral body suits. It can be considered among the most beautiful and unique practices in the world.

One of the most fascinating displays has been in suspending plants. Using the metal frame of a cube and a series of thin wires, Makoto strings up a variety of plants, giving them the effect of floating. Considering we rarely see a full plant—that is, we mainly notice the leaves and flowers and features of the plant above the soil—suspending the plant in open space allows us to visually explore the roots and finer points of the specimen from several perspectives, unbound by the earth. Like the ancient Japanese art of bonsai, Makoto incorporates small trees into his display, bending them in unnatural directions or exposing them to frozen environments for the sake of aesthetics and exploration.

In exploring the potential of the plant medium, it is interesting to dissect the human relationship with flora. While we are, in fact, fauna—animals—looking into the connection we have with our counterparts can incite many ideas. Makoto, in his “Leaf Man” exhibit, displays a metaphorical symbiotic relationship we can hold with our little green friends. Through employing plants, specifically leaves, as means of covering our bodies, we see that plants offer us shelter and cover. While we exhale carbon dioxide and they inhale it, they in turn fill our lungs with oxygen and offer the boughs we need to build homes. They conceal us, and we support them. Also, this display strangely mirrors the Garden of Eden and the Biblical need to conceal one’s body.

Makoto’s art does not end with the use of suspension and human coverage. In his “Collapsible Leaves” exhibit, Makoto limits his medium to only leaves, folding them in intricate patterns and combining them in ways to create a naturally-appearing product. He goes so far as to invert his plane of growth and direction by having bonsai trees grow out of a lush surface on a wall. Turning dimensions askew, Makoto challenges our perceptions of what plants can be and where they can be found. Altering the state of plants is an idea Makoto has whole-heartedly embraced. Via his work, he has pushed the potential of plants and unlocked greater avenues for future floral art.

19 March 2013

On the Mainstream and Tributaries

Fish swimming down a river are all going in the same direction. We are living beings coasting through existence toward a parallel end--death. Like salmon traveling upstream to spawn and perish, we follow along the routine path toward our final destination.  While segments of this stream may branch off into smaller tributaries and lead to slightly altered versions of the same thing--whether that be landing in a puddle of muck and suffocating in flapping gills or being crushed against rocks or pulled up by fishing nets--we end in death. The destination is fixed and final and only our means of getting there is what deviates on the individual level. Each journey is a story to be documented, although in the end it is the all the same book, just with lightly altered covers. Bound or unbound, we will end up as corpses on the shore and what will we have to show for it? The physical body is nothing in the end and no legacy can be traced into immortality. In order to achieve longevity we need a purpose, a meaningful reason to enjoy the deviations of tributaries. While we may bask in the waves of the mainstream like all the others, we can explore no individual pursuits when too afraid to take the side-stream or downplay those trying to avoid the current by labeling them as 'weird' or 'starved for attention.' We all need a chance to explore and take a side current, whether that be a daily ritual of personal expression or a lifestyle of homemade ambitions. Be sidestream. Not hipster, not flowing into the 'other' mainstream, but deviating into a winding tributary of unknown meanderings. Then embrace the end in open arms.

13 March 2013

Rooks, Knights, and Bishops, Oh My!

The greatest game of all time garners its beauty not only from the intricacy of its elegant design but from its variety of tastefully styled constructions. Chess derives from several ancient games intended to simulate war across the globe, and each contributes to the miraculous game that we all know and love. Specifically, chess draws its origins from the Indian chaturaṅga—a game containing pieces with similar movements to modern rooks, knights, bishops, and pawns, but called chariotry, cavalry, elephants, and infantry—and the Muslim shatranj—which has many similarities to both modern Western chess and the Japanese variant shogi. After chess was adopted into European culture, it fully became the standard F.I.D.E. (World Chess Federation) version we know today. While the game is an abstraction of war tactics and strategy, the design of its pieces gives it a classic and elegant feel that mirrors the brilliance of thought required to succeed in the game. In this regard, there are quite literally hundreds of variants in existence, which attempt to embody and exploit different aspects of the game and explore its further intricacies, whether that be increasing the number of players, the movements of pieces, or the shape and size of the board. Many of these deviations from standard F.I.D.E. chess are wonderfully amusing, and I strongly suggest exploring them at the Chess Variant Pages.

With so many varieties in existence, it is easy to see the impact chess has on the people subject to its addictive allure. Years are dedicating to exploring and mastering this game, and, as a result, it has become a quintessence of the human condition. At its heart, chess subsists of pure logic and rational thought. In this regard, it tends to employ the left-brain, which is often favored by society for the progression of accomplishment, in war, business, or development. However, while the game is mastered in understanding and applying this rational thought, the display of chess and the environment it operates in allows for creativity to play its part. Ergo, chess sets are some of the most brilliant pieces of art.

Many sets are traditionally beautiful, with hand-carved pieces or glass boards, many of which can be placed on display in homes for the sake of class and esteem. Some sets change the display of pieces, deviating from the traditional Staunton chess set which has been adopted by F.I.D.E. as the standard since 1924. These deviations can sometimes become more concrete, such as using figurines, which are designed as people or animals. Other times, they can become more abstract, such as finding a singular shape to stand for a known piece.

Not only are the pieces greatly altered, but the boards themselves can take on dynamic changes, whether that is scale or direction. There are several “life-sized” chess sets around that involve two to three foot pieces on a large ten-by-ten foot board. Also, the boards can have a variety of different colored pieces, separating from the standard black-and-white checkers. The most original design I have found incorporates a vertical board, where the game is played on a wall-hanging by moving pieces up and down a picture-framed surface.

Many variations of chess exist, from the concept of the game to the design of the pieces and board, but they all mirror the brilliance of the elegant game.