I introduced a sculpture by Mitsuaki Tanabe in the May 21 edition of this newspaper (no. 1152, page 2). It was A seed of wild rice - MOMI - 2008, a monument installed in the headquarters building of FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The artist himself attended the unveiling ceremony. It was held on April 1 last year, soon after the February 26 opening of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, constructed in permafrost above the Arctic Circle by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), an independent organization associated with FAO, and the Norwegian government.
Tanabe's sculpture, A seed of wild rice - MOMI, is an enlarged, symbolic representation of the basic form of a wild rice seed, the end product of ideas and actions carried out over a period of approximately 20 years. The installation of this sculpture at the headquarters of the United Nations organization in charge of world food problems means that the wild rice seed has been accepted as a universal symbol of food crops grown on the planet Earth.
Tanabe had a strong desire to visit the seed vault, which is located on the island of Spitsbergen, one of the Svalbard Islands. The construction costs for the vault were paid by the government of Norway, and it was designed as an ultimate safety measure by GCDT, based on the idea that diversity is a fundamental principle of agriculture in improving food productivity and preparing for a future food crisis. The vault can accommodate more than 3 million kinds of seeds. The sealed boxes inside can only be opened by representatives of the countries that own the seeds. Tanabe made a proposal through the staff of the GCDT headquarters and the Norwegian government organization he had met in Rome. He proposed to make a sculpture on the theme of wild rice seed for the seed vault, expressing another of his themes, in-situ conservation of wild rice.

His proposal was accepted and on February 26 of this year, the anniversary of the completion of the Global Seed Vault, he had the opportunity of visiting the vault at the invitation of the Norwegian government. The symbolic sculpture was attached to the wall of the tunnel in front of the vault in a place called the Svalbard Tube, at the point where the tunnel moving straight in from the entrance meets another tunnel crossing it at right angles. The temperature at the site is four degrees below zero. It is a place that people pass whenever they take seeds in or out. The sculpture is 120 centimeters long and, like most of Tanabe's other sculptures, made of stainless steel. The title is The Seed 2009 Momi - In - Situ Conservation. It advocates the importance of the idea of in-situ conservation, which represents a very different approach to the preservation of plant species than the seed vault. Tanabe believes that both approaches are necessary. They must be used in tandem, like two wheels on the same vehicle, in order to assure continued food production and crop diversity.
This vault is managed jointly by GCDT, the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (Nor Gen), and the Norwegian government. The project was first conceived 20 years ago in response to the nuclear power plant accident at Chernobyl, which occurred in April 1986. One is amazed at this realistic venture in crisis management designed to deal with the dangers posed by nuclear power by the country in charge of the Nobel Peace Prize. The installation of Tanabe's sculpture is an artistic contribution to this effort by a Japanese artist, a person from Asia. Contributions within a professional field are important, but assistant from outside the field is also appreciated in a field like this. Art cannot solve any of these problems, but it makes it possible for the person who sees it to gain a comprehensive understanding in an instant.

1, 11 MAY 2009 The Shin Bijutsu Shinbun

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