Ur is a German prefix meaning original or primal. Goethe attached it to the word for plant to create a new concept, Urpflanze, the original form of a plant. The poet used this coined word to refer to the ideal form that serves as a type or root of the plant that currently exists, a basic form that is susceptible to various transformations. I have already explained the circumstances by which Tanabe's work moved toward such an ur-condition in his search for the origins of the path of rice cultivation. I look forward to seeing the results of his explorations in this exhibition.
A "hundred flowers are blooming" in the scientific research related to the path of rice cultivation. Wild rice grains have been found in archaeological excavations in the Yangtze River drainage, which has some of the oldest remains of rice cultivation in the world. There has been a remarkable find at the He Me Du site of momi that is more than 7000 years old. Tanabe has made a serious study to increase his knowledge of rice cultivation and created many works of all sizes on the theme of momi. Work from this series of cast stainless steel sculptures was shown in solo exhibitions in 1989 and 1992. There were dramatic changes in form during that period, from the smooth, round form of a grain of cultivated rice to the irregular form of a piece of wild rice with a long protuberance, the nogi.

Tanabe's search took him deep into the untracked territory of wild rice. In ancient times, wild rice crossed the line of 30 degrees north latitude and was eventually cultivated in the north. This fact is known from the high proportion of wild rice among the rice grains found at the He Me Du. Because of later temperature changes, wild rice moved southward to tropical regions. As new strains of cultivated rice were created, wild rice was treated as a weed when it sprouted in rice paddies, but it eventually found a safe haven in marshy wilderness areas. No one knows who began cultivating this wild rice over 7000 years ago. Of course, efforts were made in modern times to preserve wild rice in gene banks and grow it in research facilities, but it was quickly becoming extinct in its natural habitat because of overdevelopment. In 1992, Tanabe met Dr. Yoichiro Sato, a distinguished researcher in this field, and joined his movement to preserve the natural habitat of wild rice.
The series of sculptures Tanabe created during this period were exhibited at the Zhejiang Provincial Museum and He Me Du Ruins Museum in China and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila, and these institutions purchased his work after the exhibitions were over. The installation shown at the IRRI exhibition consisted of a silver-colored cast stainless steel sculpture enshrined on a golden pile of momi in an open burlap rice bag. It clearly conveyed the message that wild rice is the father of cultivated rice, an irreplaceable jewel that is essential to the future of humankind.
As demonstrated by the exhibition at IRRI, Dr. Klaus Lampe, the German director general of the institute at the time, understood the great importance of Tanabe's work. Dr. Lampe invited Tanabe to the institute in 1994 commissioned him to make a freely designed artwork for the observation hall, and the artist received the highest level of wages paid to employees of the institute in spite of a difficult economic situation. The doctor probably hoped to use this artwork to create a more open atmosphere at the institute, to introduce a fresh spirit into the "ivory tower" and give it the vitality it needed to continue its work into the future. In response to this request, Tanabe used eight tons of red lauan wood to make MOMI 1994 - Wild Rice, a monumental work that held out a dream for the future.

During the same year, an IRRI conference was held in Tokyo, and Dr. Lampe asked Tanabe to create artwork for the conference venue, Nikkei Hall. He made a large drawing of a momi grain 11 meters long, displaying it in the center of the stage with cast forms of momi on both sides of the podium as well as an actual plow once used in the Philippines. In the entrance to the hall, he displayed a large color photograph of MOMI 1994 - Wild Rice, which he had just installed at IRRI headquarters. It was a display that expressed the importance of returning to the source. Through the general consent of the participants and Tanabe's own decision, the drawing and cast sculptures were donated to the royal princess of Thailand, who sponsored the conference as well as presenting a paper.
Right after this meeting, the "Wild Rice Habitat Preservation" project was initiated by the royal house of Thailand. Tanabe participated in this project and, in 1997, installed a gigantic outdoor monument to wild rice, 33 meters in length, at the Pathum Thani Rice Research Center. In this work, the main body of the momi is three meters long, and the remaining 30 meters are the nogi, the extended whisker, which is a minimum of ten times the length of the grain.
I attended the unveiling ceremony of this monument. It reminded me in its overall form of the unhulled ears of wild rice that I first saw at the National Genetic Research Institute in Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture, which I visited with Tanabe ten years ago. The body of the rice ear is filled with a life force that keeps it alive for many years, and the nogi that extends from it has a sensitive and elegant form. This is the subject that Tanabe has chosen for his art. It is based on an idealistic concept of respect and praise for ancient ways and artistic form. Tanabe refused to display this work in the front entrance because he wanted to place it in the experimental rice paddies spreading around the center. It was a remarkable achievement. The momi was revealed in the sunlight after the veil was removed, singing out its idealistic message in a way that made the entire site, all 160 hectares of space, fall silent.
Translated by Stanley N. Anderson