Air currents, ocean currents, and physical distribution (circulation of products) - these are key terms for understanding the concepts behind Mitsuaki Tanabeユs global art. Air currents and ocean currents are paths of nature. The paths of physical distribution may be artificial, but the things that flow along them may not always be material goods. Trade routes can become bridges connecting different cultures, like the Silk Road crossing Central Asia. I have mentioned air currents in the previous section. Here I would like to examine three outdoor monuments produced between 1985 and 1988: Yokohama, an Object Far Away (Honmoku Pier, Port of Yokohama), Naoetsu (Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture), and Seoul - Unhulled Rice - Thermal Conductivity (National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, The Republic of Korea). The first two works refer to ocean currents. In thinking about the flow of physical things, Tanabe has focused on the cultivation of rice. Since ancient times, rice has been the staff of life and the source and foundation of culture for a large proportion of the worldユs people, the people living from the tropics to the monsoon regions of Asia.
The three works mentioned above were fabricated in a stainless steel workshop in Joetsu City (previously known as Naoetsu). I made a number of visits there at the artist's invitation. At that time, a replanting project was being carried out on the seashore with heavy equipment, the same sort of project being carried out in many parts of the country. In some places the ground had been prepared and new trees planted, but there were many withered trees left that had been damaged by strong winds from the sea. We stepped from stone to stone, searching for the decimated remains of Rosa rugosa flowers that had drifted in on the ocean current.
I discovered the meaning of this experience later on. Tanabe wanted to show me the seaside scenery as well as the process of making the work because the forms he was using in Naoetsu were based on the sails of the trade ships once used in that area, known as "Kitamae ships."
This was a reference to the historical background of the port of Naoetsu, which is located on a quiet inlet of the Japan Sea at the mouth of the Seki River. The monument was commissioned by the local Rotary Club. Its large form, 15 meters high and 6 meters wide, was intended to suggest the future prosperity being promoted by local businessmen. Appropriately enough, the artist painted the work reddish purple, the color of Rosa rugosa buds. Some artists would rather show the physical qualities of their material rather than painting over it, but this bold proposal was welcomed by the citizens. The installation of the monument led to a movement to replant vegetation on the shore, which has expanded and been continued until the present time. There is a strong connection between the names of plants and the places where they grow. That is why some people say that it is best to learn the name of a plant in its natural habitat. The visitors who come to this bustling port from far away gain an impression of the place from the flowers they see at the side of the road. If they see a flower that they know, they feel affection for the land as if they were connected to it by some sort of blood relationship. Protecting natural plants is a problem of the heart, not a matter of slogans or putting on a show.

Yokohama, an Object Far Away was conceived of as a three-part work stretched along an area one kilometer in length on a pier next to a communications tower for shipping. The three parts are (1) a monument in front of the base of the tower, (2) flower beds, two stone structures that take the form of waves moving toward the tower, and (3) a stone stage, which has not yet been built. The monument is shaped like the two halves of a shell. It has the appearance of a fossil scallop that lived in ancient times. The material is cast stainless steel, a cutting-edge technology that will be passed on to the next generation. The scale is world class, 6 meters in diameter with a weight of 15 tons. The two halves of the shell were welded together with a slight space between them. Depending on the wind direction, this structure produces a sound suggesting the call of the faraway sea that mixes in with the other noises of the port. The flower beds are stone walls made in the old way, by a craftsman using a single hammer. Vegetation unique to this shore, washed alternately by the Kuroshio (a warm current) and Oyashio (a cold current), is planted inside the oval flower beds, which are 22 meters in length.  These forms are like two modern arks that have drifted in to the shore. Recently, while walking here, I found that seeds from the flower bed were sprouting in the lawn in front of the tower. The caretaker said that he planned to leave them alone. I heard later that he was a native of Yokohama who had lost the place where he used to fish due to expansion of the port.

Seoul - Unhulled Rice - Thermal Conductivity was commissioned for the garden of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul at the time of the Olympic Games. This was a somewhat surprising commission, since Korea has had a policy of rejecting all forms of Japanese culture since World War II. Tanabe was nervous about how to deal with this situation, a fact that is evident from the title, Thermal Conductivity, which is unusual in the field of art.

The base of the work is a large granite stone from Korea, which holds up a heavy-looking piece of cast stainless steel made in Japan. It symbolizes the differences between peoples and cultures, which can become too defensive and enclose themselves inside rigid, square walls that conceal their honor and traditions. It is difficult to make a conductive material that allows blood to pass, and countries that have been hurt by Japan in the past are protected by new forms of insulation. In spite of these barriers, our countries are neighbors and they have the same beautiful fields with waving ears of green and gold rice. The momi (unhulled rice grain) rising from the top of the work represents the seed of life and foundation of culture that both countries have in common. It is also a signpost pointing back down the long road of rice cultivation, which has spread from the tropics to the Far East. In an unusual decision by Korea, Tanabe was given the chance to erect this signpost a step outside of his own country. Ever since then, he has continued to seek the beginnings of this road by making art on the theme of momi.
Translated by Stanley N. Anderson