Have you ever been driving and seen a dead animal on the side of the road? Have you ever stopped to take a closer look? And finally, have you ever removed the bones from that animal and attempted to create a sculpture? I would imagine that most people would answer in this order; "Yes. No. Of course Not!" Japanese artist Hideki Tokushige would have a different answer; "Yes. Definitely. Obviously!"
Using only materials that he removes from dead animals, this gifted artist creates spectacular sculptures of delicate flowers in the ultimate form of artistic recycling. They are meticulously crafted and the challenge lies not only in acquiring so many bones, but also because the process itself is intensely time-consuming and the flowers are impossibly fragile. That being said, despite the bizarre nature of the materials, I think the art world is lucky that Hideki picked up his first raccoon carcass 9 years ago.
Queen of the Night
At first glance, these sculptures have a disturbing beauty to them, and it is difficult to mentally accept the bones of dead animals as skeletal stems, but once the initial shock passes, the artist's intention becomes more clear. Bones are typically associated with death, while the blooming of flowers is normally linked to spring, and new life. Therefore, Tokushige's art works as an existential oxymoron, connecting these two opposing ideas into art. By definition, art does not have an expiration date or a set life span; it is effectively distanced from the natural processes of death and life.
Tokushige isn't about to let art get off the hook that easily, and he forces viewers to consider the balance of existence and the finality of death, while also commenting on the life force of art through the final stage of his bone flowers. When he finishes his sculptures, displays them, and takes all the appropriate pictures for posterity, he does something that would shock most artists. He buries his artwork, returning it to the earth where he found it, albeit in a more beautiful form.
The natural forms of the bones are eerily perfect for the delicate structure of flowers, particularly in the piece above, titled Hydrangeas. The leaves are made of tanned animal skin, and the petals of the flower are made from the shoulder blades of 127 mice. He incorporates a wide range of animal bones from a number of different species, depending on what bone flower he is planning to work on next. In his artistic process he spends time out in nature, examining the natural form of flowers, how they fit into their environments and the emotions that they suggest.
Tokushige is an artist in every sense of the word, believing that every step of the process, from conception to construction to destruction is an equally essential part of his journey with each piece. He does not create this work to fill up gallery space or to be preserved for generations to come. His art reflects the natural cycle of life, and as such, his artistic beliefs would be counterfeit if he didn't similarly represent that cycle in the inevitable death and decay of his own work.
Bone Flower Process
Despite the normal connection of flowers to rebirth, they are also closely related to death. We bring flowers to funerals and bury the dead with flowers on their caskets. For millennia, people have been celebrating death with flowers, and pollen is often found in large quantities around preserved bodies from the ancient past. This connection is nothing new, and Hideki hopes that his work stimulates conversation about the transient, delicate nature of life, and the important of relishing it in the moment, before there is nothing left of us but bones.
Just like his artwork, we all eventually return to the soil in some form, only to be absorbed or swallowed by the earth to be reborn in another form. Obviously, organized religions have different opinions on the "soul", but the body remains. Some people consider human beings to be great works of art, the masterpieces of either evolution or intelligent design. If that is the case, then we've already set a long precedent of burying our greatest source of art in the world, so Tokushige isn't doing anything too unusual.
Queen of the Night
This young star of the Japanese art world has already broken into the international circui, and has recently exhibited some of his work in Paris, Belgium, and New York. For beginning a style less than a decade ago on the side of the road, Hideki Tokushige has done very well for himself, and his meticulous work ethic and efforts at perfection have begun to pay off. He currently lives in Tokyo and is always looking for new inspiration, no matter how unlikely the source may be. Despite the limitless horizons of creative expression, art will always reflect life in some ways; it is our job to discover what that art is attempting to show.
To see all of Tokushige's mind-blowing sculptures, visit his website and read more about his in-depth philosophy and the unique relationship that he has with every work that he creates.
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All images subject to coyright by the artist.