@Mitsuaki Tanabe's "MOMI 1997 (WILD RICE) - IN SITU CONSERVATION" is a work with the motif of MOMI, or a grain of literally wild, unhulled rice. The botanical name for MOMI is Oryza rufipogon, which refers to the ancestor of the rice of the present age. The sub-title IN SITU CONSERVATION is said to be a newly designated technical expression which means "the conservation of natural populations."
This sculpture, made of stainless steel, 33 meters in length and weighing up to 4.5 tons, is a monument which is to be donated to Thailand in order to celebrate the inauguration of the conservation of natural populations of wild rice in that country. This project was initiated as a royal undertaking by the Thai Royal Family before similar programs were begun in other countries. Wild rice, which grows mainly in Southeast Asia, has long been recognized as an important hereditary resource which is expected to be useful in improving species in the future. But this plant, including its natural populations, is on the verge of extinction, because of the environmental changes caused by human beings through rapid urbanization in the present age. The donation of the monument was suggested by the artist himself, and the production costs were borne by public contributions raised following appeals by three business executives living in Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture.
When Tanabe created his two monumental works between 1986 and 1988, he had taken an interest in MOMI, or wild unhulled rice, for the first time. (See biographical notes) One of the works is a monument he built in the port of Naoetsu, Niigata Prefecture, one of Japan's most important rice-producing regions, and the other is an out-door work of plastic art set in the front garden plaza of the National Museum of Contemporary Art of the Republic of Korea in Seoul. The Korean Peninsula is thought to have been a route for the arrival of rice in Japan, and the latter work was the first to which he gave the title of MOMI.
While creating these works, Tanabe thought back to the cultural bases of the Asian region, where people live on rice and share a sense of solidarity through rice growing. Tanabe read a lot about rice, and made on-site surveys of rice-growing regions on the Chinese mainland and in various parts of Southeast Asia. In the process, he found various species of rice which can be traced back to the origin of today's varieties. The amazing ability of rice grains to survive has stirred his enthusiastic creativity. Since the diffusion of rice species for cultivation, wild rice has usually been regarded as a weed in rice fields. On the other hand, however, in some places and among some peoples, such species of wild rice are called "the rice of Heaven" or "the father of rice," and are used for religious rites. Deeply impressed by such customs, Tanabe took notes on them.
In each of the one-man shows he held in 1989 and then 1992, Tanabe took MOMI as the theme for each event, and exhibited a series of works depicting an unhulled rice grain he enlarged using the magnifying glass of art. The theme for the second show was "Wild Unhulled Rice." After that, these MOMI works were exhibited also at the Zhejiang Provincial Museum and He Mu Du Ruins Museum in China, each of which is a center for research on cultures based on rice growing, and are now on permanent display at the two galleries. Through these activities, Tanabe established a wide circle of acquaintances among Japanese scientists and in institutes where research on species of wild rice as genetic resources is carried out. He realized again the importance of rice growing, with an awareness of a population increase and a food crisis on a global scale, which the 21st century will possibly have to face, and in other words, critical issues which might threaten the survival of the human race. As a result, he has come to view with increasing apprehension the situation in which wild rice plants are steadily disappearing.
In 1994, Tanabe was invited to Manila by the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) whose headquarters are located in the city, and created a work for permanent display in the visitors' hall, with the title of "The Germination of Wild Rice." Neither science nor data can by itself move the human heart. Therefore, Tanabe must have wanted to send a message to the heart different from one produced by science or data, by means of a work of art displaying the same awareness of issues. This work created by Tanabe is composed of the main body of MOMI, a seedling, and a root. Made out of lauan wood, it is 6 meters wide, 2 meters deep, and 4 meters high. Indeed, his wishes were embodied powerfully in this creation. Parenthetically, this work is based on his actual experience of planting grains of wild unhulled rice in his yard, and his careful observation of the growth of the wild rice.
In the same year, shortly after his creative performance at the headquarters of the IRRI, the Japan-IRRI Gathering for Mutual Exchange was held in Tokyo. On this occasion, Tanabe exhibited a huge 9-meter-long sketch of a grain of unhulled rice in the hall, in addition to a work of plastic art depicting MOMI. In accordance with the general will of all concerned and Tanabe's own decision, these works were presented to Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of the Kingdom of Thailand. Her Royal highness discerned the meaning conveyed in the presents, and complied with the earnest wish of scientists to conserve natural populations of wild rice, with the result that a project was officially inaugurated as a Thai Royal Project. Tanabe was also invited to take part in the project in his capacity as an artist. In this context, while creating his new monument, Tanabe certainly had a keen awareness of his duty to see that the project should prove a great success.
As well as his latest creation, most of Tanabe's works with the theme of MOMI are produced by high-tech stainless steel casting. The technology employed produces a kind of formative material with a trio of ideal features: always clean, hard to rust, and unbreakable. He must have chosen this material, hoping that the artistic expression contained in each work would be maintained permanently. In order to express the life force in a grain of unhulled rice by using this high-tech material, which is essentially its antithesis, Tanabe applied a special kind of operational technique. This technique, called "arc air gauzing," is practically outside what is considered normal practice in engineering. In it, a high temperature (about 3,000) generated by arc discharge melts the metal, and air, jetting out simultaneously at an enormous speed, blows the melted metal away. Originally, this was a planing technique used only partially to remove the remnants of metal chips in the finishing stages of metal casting.
However, by using this technique, Tanabe obtained crater-like scars spaced evenly all over the surface of the inorganic hard cast-metal. A factory engineer there explained that what the artist was doing was virtually the same as generating artificial thunderbolts incessantly, and indeed, it was a daring technique just like flaying or gouging out metal of stone, which is skinless in itself. The factory, which is his studio, is like a scene of carnage; it is red-hot inside, and sparks fly about in torrents, with flashes of light and thunderous sound. Moreover, it is not a machine that applies the gauzing technique directly; all the scars are created by Tanabe himself with his hands.
Needless to say, the whole creative process is carried through under strict technical control and through the appropriate advice and cooperation of a professional engineer. While watching Tanabe creating one scar after another, and an engineer abrading them with scrupulous care with a grinder in his hand, the present writer imagined framework in times long ago, before it was mechanized - rice planting and weeding. Apparently, the good qualities cultivated through such work still live in high technology as well as within Tanabe, and support his originality.
It is worthy of note that with his latest monumental work he formed a long ear of rice to be attached to the main body of a grain of unhulled rice, without cutting it off halfway. This long ear of grain is one of the characteristics of plants belonging to the rice family, and is particularly conspicuous in wild unhulled rice. It is ten times as long as a grain of normal unhulled rice.
In this work, the main body of a grain of unhulled rice is 3 meters long, and the ear is 30 meters long. Part of the ear is a centrifugal casting created by the steel die method. According to this method, a more solid cast tube can be produced, by spinning the molten material in the steel die, and removing impurities by centrifugal force. By taking advantage of this technique for reforming slight warps, Tanabe gives a natural curve to the cast tube.
Originally, the long ear is thought to have the function of preserving and reproducing the species. It is a genuine single line that stretches almost endlessly in a graceful curve, and even its sharp point looks so pliable as to vividly demonstrate its life force. The cast ear is undoubtedly possessed of several remarkable attributes of beauty. In other words, it is also a symbolic object like an antenna which stretches into space to seek for a pure relation with transmission and reception.
Through the antenna of the ear, people might receive a warning from nature about the destruction of nature and environmental pollution, which are now increasing steadily. Those who pay close attention to the warning will never fail to receive the gospels of Heaven concerning the future survival of the human race. Furthermore, when they look back with sincerity upon the very long history of rice growing, whose origins may go back more than 7,000 years, they may come to perceive the marks of the culture its history has given birth to, fostered, and sometimes buried deep below ground.
The Thai royal project, which ties the present to the past and the future, is so significant and important. "What can art do?" This is a question Tanabe always has in his mind. It was this question that encouraged the monument creator to produce his latest work. The work is indeed the creation of his own free will.
Together with those who esteemed Tanabe's idea highly, with generous support, the present writer earnestly hopes that the works will be given the love of friendly feelings as a monument to the paternal rice plant among many people living in the region where the work is to be set.

Translated by NHK