|Introducing the extraordinary Macoto Murayama©|
So I went to Macoto's talk this week and what a joy it was. Firstly, the Japan Foundation was a superb space and all of the speakers and directors made us feel so very welcome, providing us all with refreshments which is always a nice thing. Secondly, it was an awesome experience because Macoto delivered the entire lecture in Japanese (thankfully there was a translator on hand). I was really pleased that he did this as not only did it make him feel more comfortable, but also because I believe you can tell a lot about a culture and the thought processes associated with it when you listen to it's language. Even though I had no idea what he was saying, one could note the pauses and changes in rate and expression. I noticed that Japanese seemed to be more efficient as a language - less words were said than the translation - and I wondered if that sort of efficiency gets translated into other aspects of life, such as in their art work.
Photos from Frantic Gallery. Work by Macoto Murayama (on Pinterest)
The talk was a beautiful introduction to his work and the methods he uses when creating. The presentation was later followed by a conversational piece between Macoto, Lucy Smith and Nathan Cohen. I particularly enjoyed this element of the discussion and wished it lasted longer. I had several questions that I really wanted to ask, but we sadly ran out of time. The questions I had saved were rather different to eatchother - one was far more basic and certainly less philosophical than the other. Firstly, I wanted to know how Macoto chose the plants that he used in his Botech Compositions (where several plants are used to make an elaborate pattern - see picture below (a couple down)). Looking at the designs, there is no reference to taxonomy or shape, but maybe geography was the key? Or maybe the patterns represented something more journalistic, possibly depicting plants collected on a single afternoon of field work? Who knows?! However - I would like to know as I think this sort of thing is really interesting as it descirbes the thought process and influences one's interpretation.
I also wanted to ask Macoto (and Lucy) if they think it is important to include a level of emotion in their work. At the start of Macoto's talk, he mentioned that he worked in a florist shop in Japan between the academic years of study, so that he could learn more about the relationship that exists between human beings and plants/flowers. Further to this, he also highlighted the groundbreaking moment when he first saw what was inside a flower - how bold over he was and that his first impulse was to share what he saw to the masses. He wanted everyone to see the beauty hidden in plants. Lucy appeared to empathise with this feeling (as do I and probably most botanists and illustrators). There certainly is something truly remarkable about the complexity, wonder and beauty hidden at the microscopic level of an organism that so commonly goes unnoticed.
|Botech Art by Macoto Murayama©|
Therefore, from what Macoto is describing, one can deduce that there is most definitely an emotional and communicative aspect in his work. However, I very quickly noticed a contradiction which was introduced at the start of this debate and it was this that I wanted to highlight and bring to the table. When discussing the artists that had influenced his work – Georgia O’Keefe, Ernst Haeckel and Karl Blossfeldt, Macoto said that it was Karl's work that he resonated with the most because he was drawn to the distance captured in each black and white photograph. He liked the clinical nature of Blossfeldt's work, the emptiness, stillness and lifelessness reflected in every piece. I feel that in the majority of work that both Macoto and Lucy produce today, this stillness is also very much present. However, why produce work that is so reserved, detached and quantifiable if what made you want to make it in the first place were the irrational feelings of excitement, ecstasy, awe and sheer wonder?
|Botech Compostion by Macoto Murayama©|
Lucy's scientific works are mostly black and white and drawn in pen and ink. Macoto's "Botech Art" and "Floral Diagrams" are very mathematical, logical and, like Lucy’s work, linear. There is nothing irrational about them; they are to the book accurate and motionless. I wanted to know how they felt about this and if they thought as illustrators, if it is possible to engage the populace using such heavily structured illustrative works or, if they felt that this where botanical art comes into play.
|Botanical Diagrams by Macoto Murayama|
Is botanical illustration able to engage people from all backgrounds, or is botanical art, with its many applications, media and forms, better equipped at tackling this dilemma? I wanted to know if Macoto felt that his compositional work (second above), which features ideas behind symmetry and pattern (these are the ones that look like rug patterns), has been better received across the board than the more quantitative works. Or are people intrigued by the more numeral pieces and if so, why? Do people prefer less emotive works? Are less expressive works easier to observe because there is nothing beyond the shapes and lines to interpret (there is nothing overly challenging). Along this line of thought, I also really wanted to know if he was conducting evaluations of his exhibitions as this is something that I very strongly about. Personally, I feel that it is incredibly necessary to know how one's work is received - it gives purpose and direction.
I was disappointed that I didn’t get to ask Macoto and Lucy their thoughts on the different channels of visual description and communication, but then it was probably just as well as we might have been there all night debating it, and it might have blown the interpreter's mind! I might have to ask Lucy one day if I see her again - I'd be intrigued to know her thoughts. Obviously her more scientific works are of use to many people under the umbrella of environmental research, but I wonder how she feels about showing her work to those beyond this sphere of enterprise and if she feels that she would need to change her style in order for it to be more noticed by these other spheres and cultures? Basically I suppose I am asking if the work needs to become more emotional, expressive and arousing whilst also being accurate in order to be noticed and send a message?
I am glad that I have been able to highlight these thoughts online. I think this is something that we all need to consider. I myself don’t have any answers, but would be delighted to know your thoughts on how successful ‘clinical’ illustration is (as opposed to the more arty forms of botanical art) in encouraging people to become more familiar with the beauty, elegance and complexity present in plants.