azuma makoto represents the stages of decomposition using flowers and leaves
all images courtesy of azuma makoto




in japanese art, the ancient kusozu style refers to a specific series of watercolor paintings that graphically illustrate the various stages of human decomposition just before, and after, death. these works of art, inspired by buddhist beliefs, intended to stimulate thinking about the ephemeral nature of the physical world.


with a combined interest in this unavoidable temporality, and the creative medium of botanical species, japanese artist azuma makoto has represented nine stages of decomposition using flowers and leaves. the project ‘box flowers’ follows the visual journey of a sculptural square made up of colorful blossoms as is slowly wilts and dies over time. the vegetation gradually morphs from a lush and vibrant shape filled with small red roses and pastel purple florets to a flattened, dull object that secretes a brown fluid on the ground surrounding it. ‘humans live with flowers on their birthday, for the marriage or anniversary, as a greeting, and of course their funeral,’ makoto says. ‘here, the viewer can 
see the transformation as the flowers go through their life, instead.’

stage 1: vibrant flowers flourish in the sculptural shape of a square 

a detail of stage 1 shows the lush vegetation filling the frame 

stage 2: the square slowly begins to flatten as flowers on the lower levels wilt 

the flowers on the base of the sculptural slowly begin to wilt 

stage 3: more compression, as the entire square of flowers are on the verge of death 

while the flowers are not dead yet, their physical shift towards it makes them wither and wilt 

stage 4: the botanical life begins to discolor, turning the entire sculpture a shade of brown 

a detail of stage 4 shows some of the petals falling off their stems 

stage 5: a brown liquid starts to ooze from the sculptural form 

the flowers, some barely clinging to life, begin to secrete a brownish fluid 

stage 6: almost all of the flowers have died, and the brown liquid pours from the flattened form 

a detail of stage 6 shows the flower petals and leaves wilted and withering away 

stage 7: barely any flowers are left with color, and the compressed form is almost completely decomposed

decomposition sets in as the dead flowers at the bottom begin to rot 

stage 8: the liquid continues to stream down the length of floor surrounding it 

the fluid begins to turn into a sticky paste 

stage 9: the original form has undergone a complete physical transformation after the flowers’ death  

the final shot shows the extent of the waste produced by the decomposing flowers