Last July, the first botanical art installation was launched into the stratosphere by a Japanese artist, aided by ten assistants, in collaboration with a volunteer-run group space program based in California. The objects launched comprised of a white pine bonsai and a bouquet of several varieties of flowers. The bonsai was rigged into a cube-shaped metal frame to support it while the bouquet was twined into rods from which it dangled. The pieces were accompanied by cameras to record their journey to and from earth, as well as tracking devices with which to record the length and duration of their travels. Following their launch, the journey into the stratosphere and the fall back down to earth took about two hours.
While a common tenant of contemporary artwork is to do something “different” with the piece (displaying it in an uncommon location, using an unusual medium or object with which to make a statement, etc), not many artists can say that their piece was displayed up in the atmosphere. I think the location of this piece was really what the piece was about; not so much the beauty of the bonsai or the aesthetic value of the bouquet.
I feel as though at this moment in the vast community of artists and various types of creation, “art” is a very broad term for a myriad category of forms of expression. I feel as though shock value plays a bigger part in “art” than it used to and that there is oftentimes a controversial tinge involved in the particular work of art. Perhaps this is because so many pieces contend with others for the attention of the public. The controversial element to a piece is intended to grab the attention of a viewer who otherwise might not be interested in the piece.
In this case, that tinge would be the fact that the bonsai’s suspended in the stratosphere as opposed to sitting in a garden or gallery.
(On this same note, I found it mildly amusing that the author of one New York Times article who reported on Azuma Makoto’s aerial art gave the story the title of A Japanese Artist Launches Plants into Space. The author of the article notes that of the two pieces the installation is comprised of, one piece floated 91,800 feet into the air and the other travelled to 87,000 feet before their balloons burst and the riggings for the art fell back to earth. The peak of the plants’ voyage was within the stratosphere, the second layer of the atmosphere, which isn’t exactly “space” as the average person would think of it. I think to most people, the title of the article would assert that the plants were launched to the layers that spacecrafts and satellites inhabit (which is the highest layer; the exosphere).
– Dorian Koehring