Roxana Azar, in Bloom
Roxana Azar’s botanic photographs are extraterrestrial. Inside their hues and saturation they embrace a kind of supernatural. They are lush and thick with atmospheres that fuel imagination and desires. The cosmos is implicated in the microcosm of her adapted verdure. Such wonderful confusions drive the fusion that big and small can come together. It is ripe and glorious to see how the familiar becomes new or even different; it is embraced in its oddity because even though it may not be the same it is still deeply personal and recognizable. Existence and reality are funny things, what is perceived is responsible for a portion of its validity, but it is not responsible for all of it. A viewer looking at a Roxana Azar employs a creative mind. In the grips of her imagery sight becomes herbivorous, the dominion of plants is in their power to drive connections, adaptation, and communication. — Efrem Zelony-Mindell
RFP It’s interesting that your work mixes nature and life with digital manipulation. What compels you to work within this juxtaposition?
RA It’s sort of difficult to escape digital manipulation. I feel like I’ve been using Photoshop for so long in such a wrong way that it feels natural to keep working like that. It does lend itself to the content of my work especially since I’m thinking about these places that could exist, but don’t actually exist yet.
RFP I’m a huge fan of how you use color and texture in your work. Everything seems to blend in and stand out in a way that feels both expansive and encapsulating. Can you talk a little about how you compose your images and your desired effect?
RA What I wanted for my photographs was for the images to feel like when you are looking at an image from space, where it does feel expansive but it’s such a tiny fraction of the universe that just that idea alone is awesome. I always love the images from the Mars rover because it’s like, this could be a desert on Earth but it’s from a planet so distant and so dangerous to human life. There is a lot of layering and blending, I like my photographs to feel almost playful at first and then start to feel unsettling. There’s a contrast between the color palette and the atmosphere that helps me achieve that.
RFP You said “there’s this alienation through the uncanny,” which makes me think the way we interact with nature, how it borders the uncanny. I wonder if you could speak a bit more on how your work engages with the idea of being alienated from nature?
RA When I was making this work I moved to a different state, so I felt like there were these parts of this place that I was living in that could’ve felt like home in some way, but I didn’t feel connected to. I had this story when I was making some of these images that in the future there’s a greenhouse that doesn’t house any more plants, just images and projections of specimens that don’t exist anymore in the future. Maybe the image is deteriorating and that’s all that’s left of what existed. Or maybe photographs seem fake, but you can’t tell because they don’t exist anymore.
RFP How do even begin dreaming up these images? How long does it generally take you to compose an image? What’s your process?
RA My process is sort of sporadic, sometimes things happen organically and other times there is a formula or set of rules that I give myself. At one point I was writing these short science fiction poems as prompts for images, or as reactions to images. People will never see the poems, but I don’t think that matters right now.
RFP A sort of unease of the future, a looming sense of crisis, politically, ecologically and economically, seems in conversation in your work. Could you talk a bit about how your work channels this unease, this “realizing that something is strange?”
RA I think it’s difficult not to be influenced by the tension of this moment in time, but it’s a tension that has always been there. Growing up when W was president I remember how on edge I was even as a kid. You experience anxiety so much in the body, your heart beats faster, it's harder to breathe, and so on. The landscape references the body for me, and it’s sort of like this stand in. So when there’s this strangeness in the landscape, I’m thinking of an anxiety that doesn’t just speak to destruction and climate but also the loss of a solid mental state, where you’re questioning your reality and you’re aware of all possible outcomes.
RFP Do you find yourself going out into the country or into nature for your work, even if just to inspire new ideas? Are there certain places that you draw inspiration from?
RA Lately I’m more influenced by interesting plant functions and my houseplants. I recently checked out the corpse flower in the flesh and that was wild, it turns out the corpse flower heats up almost the temperature of a human body. I’ve been propagating my plants and pretty much cloning and multiplying my plants and watching the roots grow out like tiny feet that turn into more complex structures. Lately I’ve been working on images that depict futuristic plant-like beings as part of a sentient landscape so thinking about these tiny connections are useful, like how plants are able to communicate with each other. I always look at images from NASA and sincerely love terrible artist renditions of what views from other planets could look like.