A 50-year-old bonsai soared through outer space last month, and may still be in orbit. Tokyo-based artist Makoto Azuma sent the conifer (from his personal collection) and an orb of orchids into the stratosphere, riding on the coattails of helium balloons launched from the Black Rock Desert outside Gerlach, Nevada (ephemeral home to Burning Man). To accomplish the mission, titled Exobiotanica, Azuma teamed up with JP Aerospace, a.k.a. America’s Other Space Program. John Powell, founder of the volunteer-based organization, described the installation as domestication of space: “The best thing about this project is that space is so foreign to most of us, so seeing a familiar object like a bouquet of flowers flying above Earth domesticates space, and the idea of traveling into it.”
The white pine had already made a long journey from Japan, landing in a special box in the Nevada desert. For its second adventure, Azuma and crew built a metal frame from which to suspend the immaculate tree, and attached a companion bundle of still cameras, Go Pros, altimeters and trackers. Buoyed by the balloon, the bonsai traveled for 100 minutes, reaching 91,800 feet, before the balloon burst and sent the tree into free-fall for 40 minutes. The frame touched ground five miles from the launch site. The bonsai was never found.
“Plants on earth rooted in the soil, under the command of gravity,” Azuma mused about Exobiotanica. “By giving up the links to life, what kind of ‘beauty’ shall be born?” An ethereal, tranquil, trippy kind of beauty (like this tank).