By combining flowers and technology, PHKA breaks the boundaries of tradition and creates beautiful, meaningful and unique floral installations. Coming from a traditional floral culture, the Thai collective and studio wants to reinterpret the current norm and create a new one. Will they succeed?
They believe that “flowers always have the ability to convey emotions – from individual to individual, and from individual to public. There is a hidden message in each arrangement. They can express gratitude, sadness or joyfulness and even encrypt an indirect message”. Each floral installation locks up a whole universe ready to be discovered, and they’re presenting a new one from October 17 to 27 at Festival Flora in Córdoba (Spain).
Phkastudio Metalmagazine 12.jpg
PHKA Studio was born in 2013, and since then it’s kept growing. But how did it all start? Why did you decide to start this project?
We started by doing small-scale installations and flower arrangements to attract a wider clientele and audience before focusing on events and installations. We wanted to do floral installations right from the start, but we learned that Thais are more familiar with traditional floristry than with floral installations. Especially for public installations, it’s uncommon to be commissioned this kind of work because of how expensive they are. But later, we somehow got involved in Bangkok Design Week 2018 by submitting two projects, Abandoned One and Blooming Tune, which we produced with our own money. The feedback was outstanding. We were one of the highlights of the festival that year, and from there until now, we’ve kept receiving commissions.
What are your values?
We believe that there is a missing link between architecture (spatial design) and floristry. Our work ethos is to integrate designers and florists in our projects so they can exchange their knowledge and skills. Later on, it developed into a collaboration beyond these two professions.
What do the letters P-H-K-A stand for?
PHKA (pronounced pha-ka) isn’t an acronym but simply means ‘flower’ in Thai. There are several words that mean flower in Thai; PHKA is one of them, but it’s quite old school. People may think of a grandma’s florist when they hear our name. We think it’s a little twist as we use the name in all caps – easy to recall while it also represents Thainess in a contemporary context.
Phkastudio Metalmagazine 2.jpg
The studio is conformed by a cross-disciplinary team. I’d like to know more about it – how many people integrate it, what are their roles and backgrounds, how do you work collectively on projects, etc.
We currently have a team of seventeen people in our studio. Their positions and backgrounds range from florists to designers to computer engineers. Most of them are recent university graduates in various disciplines like culinary arts, floristry, interior design, industrial design and architecture. This team of young and open-minded people was formed to work without a predefined framework and with versatility. In addition, shuffling members in almost all projects allows us to understand the individual approach of others and also results in unique outcomes.
Flowers have been a huge part of Thai society because of its religious and cultural ceremonies. How has this traditional approach to flowers influenced your work?
This traditional preconception of flowers is an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. In Thailand, there is a specific degree in a university to become a traditional florist. Techniques and almost unalterable formats of Thai floral crafts are systematically taught as they are part of religious, cultural or even royal ceremonies. This rigid custom is like a totem for us that doesn’t let us play around. Our obsession is the reinterpretation and reformation of the culture to create a new norm.
Your work goes beyond shallow beauty and transcends the ephemeral; it has a strong conceptual meaning behind it. What’s your creative process like?
Once the project is given a go, we establish a mutual timetable in which tasks and milestones are assigned. Then, we spend time on research and the team members get back together with new inputs, which shape and result in the concept. Although it depends on the resource allocation, this is a simple and practical process.
Phkastudio Metalmagazine 15.jpg
You also have a background in art and architecture design. PHKA aims to integrate, mix and intertwine installation art and floral design. How would you say the two are related?
Since both founders have an architecture-related background, we would normally see things as architects – site, program, user, etc. The mix of this nature with the utilizations of flowers as materials makes us somehow different from other florists. We couldn’t create a floral piece without its surrounding. We rely on methodical and planned thinking rather than on aesthetic improvisation. We think this is a benefit in large installations because they contain a huge number of flowers.
You work with elements from nature. This adds difficulties in the project, right? However, the transience of life can also add a special beauty to the piece.
There is no material similar to flowers. You could never make again the same floral piece because of the uncontrollable nature. It doesn’t matter how much effort or preparation you put in it, it’s almost impossible to follow the plan a hundred per cent. Having to deal with organic elements certainly comes with difficulties, but on the other hand, you couldn’t find the same charm in other materials. Timing is also one of the most important aspects of floral art, both for the creator and the spectator.
You have said that flowers, as something visual, can convey emotions. Why do flowers have this power?
Flowers always have the ability to convey emotions – from individual to individual, and from individual to a public. There is a hidden message in each arrangement. They can express gratitude, sadness or joyfulness and even encrypt an indirect message. You could not trace the origin on this application of flowers. It possibly is because of living beings, including humans and flowers, are both part of mother nature.
Phkastudio Metalmagazine 1.jpg
Which is the criteria for choosing the flowers of each project? Also, do you try to source them locally?
It depends, but it’s largely based on the seasonal availability of each flower. We also give priority to local floral materials via local suppliers or via self-sourcing. For us, it’s more intriguing to use native flowers or plants than importing them. Other selection factors are the durability of the flowers, their meaning or history and their physical appearance.
In Abandoned, you filled the wall of a nightclub with flowers. You said that the objective was to emphasize controversial social issues. I find this aspect of floral art really interesting. Could you elaborate more on this concept? Do you think that this ‘social’ facet is still unknown? Would you like to explore it more?
Flowers are a perfect medium in storytelling when it comes to controversial social issues, as it has a great power to draw the public’s attention to the installation. Possibly, it is for a short period of time, but nevertheless, people can get interested in these issues and keep investigating about its context and history. In Abandoned One, our goal isn’t to point out whether it’s black or white, we just want people to interact with the architecture to maybe change their perception of prostitution. After approximately ninety years, the nightclub is getting rehabilitated while sex trade is still an overlooked business. We would love to re-examine this theme when we have the opportunity, but probably we would do it in another perspective.
Blooming Tune is a floral installation that visualizes the relationship between music and flowers. The installation had movement and music. This mix of technology and flowers may lead us to think if technology is opening a new whole universe for art. What’s your opinion on this?
Many artists incorporate technology into art, creating mind-blowing and eye-catching art installations. We’re crazy about artists and designers like James Turrell, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Theo Jansen, and Olafur Eliasson; following the same path, but with flowers, is astonishing to us that technology and floral design are likely to be on opposite sides. We have to be clear though: we are not groundbreakers since there are artists that also have investigated this territory, as Azuma Makoto, the most prominent one.
We think that working with technology absolutely breaks the boundaries and unleashes new possibilities in the art of floral installation. We are always looking for collaborations with technological experts and trying to adapt to new tools as it is a very important aspect for us in creating new pieces.
Phkastudio Metalmagazine 17.jpg
In Ninth Avenue, you name Toronto Reference Library as a source of inspiration. But because you mix flower design together with art, installations, design, nature and technology, what else does inspire your work? What and who are some referents of yours?
Our sources of inspiration are limitless and could go beyond disciplines. We take a different approach for each project, depending on the given criteria, which could be the concept, client’s requirements, function, or space. Based on these one-at-a-time criteria, we found ourselves diving into specific aspects we are interested in. And the inspiration could be anything: haute couture, architectural parametric design, social contexts, pastry, subculture, or history. We could say that we have a long list of different referents – Carlo Scarpa, Iris Van Herpen, George Rousse, Nendo (Oki Sato), and Kelly Wearstler to name a few.
You will be participating this year in Festival Flora, a festival of floral art in Córdoba. Spanish and Thai cultures are quite different, however, I’m sure the audience will love your installation. Are flowers an international language? Even though some flowers have special cultural meanings…
Yes, although we come from the other part of the ocean, we believe that flowers are universal and that we are all able to appreciate them in the same aesthetic. While culture led us to an individual interpretation, it is also fascinating to understand a deeper meaning in alternative cultures.
Also, Festival Flora focuses on sustainability. We’re aware of how polluting different industries are – cars, meat, fashion, etc. –, but I’m not that sure about flowers. Are you integrating more sustainable practices within your work or investigating new techniques to make it more eco-friendly?
Environmental issues related to the flower industry could involve chemicals, water-usage, excess garbage, and many other ways of pollution. We are well aware of that and we’re looking how can we work efficiently under these circumstances. No use of floral foam is one of the sustainable approaches that we are taking seriously, but we also look at other aspects including avoiding the use of non-recyclable material (i.e. plastic container and plywood) or reducing the use of any excess materials. This can be done in previous phases of design because our designers and detail designers of each project can find alternatives. For example, we explored the floral installation on knotting ropes at the Festival Flora.
Phkastudio Metalmagazine 7.jpg
Phkastudio Metalmagazine 5.jpg
Phkastudio Metalmagazine 18.jpg
Phkastudio Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Phkastudio Metalmagazine 9.jpg
Phkastudio Metalmagazine 16.jpg