Let’s get this out of the way. The Encyclopedia of Flowers may be a 512-page tome, but you won’t be learning anything about the hibiscus, violet or ixora beyond its botanical name. You will, however, get to see in high-resolution detail the Lion’s Claw, the Star of Bethlehem and the charmingly named Hairy Banana.
In short, this encyclopaedia isn’t quite a work of scientific knowledge. Its purpose, rather, is to showcase the ephemeral beauty of nature through a pictorial record of two men’s oeuvre. Understand this and the act of leafing through its 203 colour images will leave you with roughly the same scope of emotions you would feel standing before the Mona Lisa.
The artist here is Makoto Azuma, a 37-year-old Tokyo florist whose work would rightfully be termed as installation art. He has created sunken moss gardens for Milan Design Week, drawn connections between fashion and nature with sculptures for the Isetan Shinjuku department store in Japan and submerged a “bonsai” (made of branches and java moss) in an aquarium to explore and redefine the millennia-old art of bonsai.
The book’s exhibition-quality photographs are by Azuma’s business partner Shunsuke Shiinoki. Taken between 2009 and 2012, the photographs detail a fraction of the work that happens in the duo’s Minami Aoyama studio.
There, Azuma snips flowers off their life-giving roots, giving them new life as objects of beauty until they inevitably wither and die. But Shiinoki, armed with his camera, gives the cut flowers instant immortality.
Azuma, himself, ponders this proximity of life and death in his preface: “While we are in the business of selling flowers, making arrangements based on received orders, we also search for different means to express the life that resides in plants and flowers. By showing the true form nature takes, we ask: ‘What does it mean to live? What does it mean to exist?’
“There is no fighting the advance of time and I felt strongly about leaving a permanent record of this ephemeral life,” he goes on to say. “In a semi-permanent way, the bookshelf is this book’s forest, where it continues to blossom and the semblance of the life force it contains persists.”
So please, do skim through the index list at back, or the spirit of this book would be lost.