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Why Did A Group Of Artists Just Put A Bonsai Tree In Space?

Take a look inside the Exobiotanica project

Michael Cruickshank
Why Did A Group Of Artists Just Put A Bonsai Tree In Space?© 2019 Makoto Azuma

When we talk about art, it is often said that canvas is often more important that the work itself. In many cases the frame in which it is held, and indeed the gallery it is displayed within adds as much beauty as the brushstrokes or the paint. Never has this adage been more true than with the Exobiotanica project.

Created by a group of artists out of Japan led by Makoto Azuma, the project involves sending an array of different kinds of plants to the edge of space, and then photographing them against the black background of the cosmos. By taking these small pieces of life to a region where no life can live, they are seeking to juxtapose the preciousness of life back down on Earth as well as investigate the way life behaves in space. In their own works they ask:  “...by giving up the links to life, what kind of “beauty” shall be born?”

In order to capture these amazing photographs, the Exobiotanica team used techniques which are more high-tech than high-culture. They worked with JP Aerospace - a company billing itself as ‘America’s Other Space Program’ - to build a rig which would be lifted on massive balloons to the edge of space. As weight was a critical design consideration many revisions to the project had to be made before a final design was chosen.

Image: © 2014 Makoto Azuma

The setup which was ultimately implemented involved the use of lightweight carbon-fiber struts which formed a cube. The plants taken into space were tied to this frame using a series of strong, yet almost invisible wires. To photograph the plants, the team experimented with a number of different set ups, before eventually deciding on a rig which used both GoPro and Fujifilm cameras.

For the plants themselves, Makoto Azuma sent two separate pieces. The first was a 50 year old white pine bonsai tree from his own collection, and the second was and arrangement of orchids, hydrangeas, lilies and other flowers. While they successfully made it two the edge of space, they disintegrated when returning to Earth, and were never found again.

Check out some of the amazing photos from this project below:

Images: © 2014 Makoto Azuma

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