Shiki might look like an ordinary bonsai—as if there were such a thing as an “ordinary” bonsai—but it has taken a swim with fish in Japan, warmed up to a thermal power station in Belgium, hung out in a communist party hall in Bulgaria and even gone into space.

The well traveled tree is the work of Japanese floral sculptor Azuma Makoto, who suspended the three-foot pine within a steel frame that measures 5 feet on each side. He wanted to explore what it would look like to see the tree in extreme environments where it could never survive. Since 2005, he’s taken his companion to the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America.

Makoto grew fascinated by plants when he was 17 and landed a part-time job as trader at a Tokyo flower market. There he discovered ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, and was hooked. He opened a haute flower shop with friend and photographer Shiinoki Shunsuke in 2002, and never looked back. “I always seek to create works in which, through the application of human touch, I can transform them into something that contains a new value that wasn’t there before,” he says.

The pair have taken Shiki on a worldwide adventure. Makoto researches the local environment beforehand—the deserts of Arizona, the glaciers of Iceland—and narrows his list to a few great locations. He prefers to use a new tree for each location, ordering bonsai from a supplier in the country he’s visiting. He carries Shiki within its frame in a bespoke cushioned black leather bag. While submerging a tree or placing it at the foot of a geyser might seem extreme, it is nothing compared to launching Shiki into the stratosphere last year.

To send a 50-year-old white pine to the edge of space, Makoto assembled a 10 person crew and worked with the California company JP Aerospace to make the launch from Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Shiki and another floral sculpture went aloft with six GoPros, still cameras for a time-lapse, and two GPS trackers. A helium balloon carried the little tree to an altitude of 98,000 feet—where the air temperature was -58 degrees Fahrenheit—during a flight that lasted of 100 minutes. “It was an incredible experience,” Makoto says. (The tree may not agree.)

The juxtaposition of the tree and its unusual locale make for stunning photos, which make both the tree and the scenery behind it more beautiful. Makoto says the project is far from finished, and he will continue installing the adventurous bonsai in places few plants dare to tread. “I’m not quite sure whether there will be an end to that or what the next step will be, but I know I will continue to wholeheartedly contemplate plants,” he says.

SHIKI: Landscape and Beyond is showing at Zhulong Gallery in Dallas, Texas until December 5.

Jump to original: 

This Pine Tree Definitely Travels More Than You Do