A lot of us run random searches on things sometimes just to see what’s out there. Sometimes, I’ll run an identical search months or years later to see what’s changed. In November 2013, I revisited a search on “bonsai trees” and “Zen gardens.” What I unlocked was a door to the fascinating world of Japanese, Tokyo-based sculptor, Takanori Aiba whose vision for bonsais is unlike any I’ve ever seen.
In my exploration of Aiba’s work, I visited 4 sites from which I pieced together Aiba’s story. After clicking on a few links they started sounding the same and I had had enough. The 4 articles were from: (1) tokyogoodidea.com (Aiba’s official site), (2) dontpaniconline.com, (3) urbanghostsmedia.com and (4) fastcodesign.com (Fast Company)
Aiba has reinvented the bonsai tradition giving us an entirely new world of art. As stated by art critic Kazuko Todate, this is not just bonsai: “Bonsai reflects the Japanese traditional aesthetic sense of expressing the magnificence of nature in a small potted plant. However, the density of decoration and the rich stories of Aiba’s works contain extraordinary times and spaces which differ from the bonsai world determined by plants physiology.”
By portraying the spiritual union between humans and nature, Aiba’s work builds on classical bonsai that captures the magnificent beauty of nature in miniature while allowing a viewer to think about the natural world in a jungle that is all concrete, no tree.
His models speak to the human aspiration to live amongst and in tune with nature, which led people to create bonsais in the first place” (dontpaniconline.com).
What we have is not just a plant in a pot offering a focal point for meditation for someone that can’t make it to a forest. Each sculpture is a gateway to a fantasy world where advanced civilizations are integrated with nature. A person can lose themselves in their imagination gazing at any of Aiba’s creations.
What’s Aiba’s Background?
Aiba was born in Yokohama in 1953 and at a young age was fascinated with anything miniature and intricate. He created stories based on the objects he came into contact with, namely, trains and bonsai trees. Gulliver’s Travels and especially Disney would become heavy influences as was his mother introducing him to textile design and cloth dying which gave rise to his broad sense of colour.
When he was a young adult, Aiba struggled to find a way to express himself artistically. After observing the patterns his pet ants displayed in constructing their communities, he was inspired to try something: apply patterns to famous works of art, and in doing so, (a) change the way audiences see the pieces and (b) open them up to new interpretations. An example shown on Don’t Panic’s site employs the Mona Lisa.
An uncanny ability to design wildly complex mazes led to a role as a maze illustrator for the men’s fashion magazine POPEYE. After this, he applied his artistic talents to “theme restaurants” as an artistic director. In 2003, he met Kazuya Murakami who would become the hands that would make Aiba’s groundbreaking vision for bonsai a reality.
How are these models made?
Kazuya Murakami’s toolkit is shockingly basic: an X-Acto knife and glue. He sources clay, plastic, resin, plaster and steel wire and any other non-perishable material that makes sense (for him) to construct a model. The biggest struggle rests in how to make the models look naturally aged and in stringing the LED lights inside the model.
I’m not sure what Aiba and Murakami are up to these days. If anyone out there has come across anything, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org! We look forward to seeing more from these two geniuses.
Further Reading: Penzai/Saikei/Bonseki/BonkeiBonsai, fine detail, Japanese Design, Plant Arrangement, Sculptures, Takanori Aiba