photo Mitsuaki TANABE

A new sculpture by Mr Mitsuaki Tanabe, a sculptor who appeals for the "preservation of in-situ wild rice", was complete approximately three months ago, and an unveiling ceremony was held in Japan in the presence of Mr Bill Withers, Minister-Counsellor (Agriculture), from the Australian Embassy. The sculpture, a gigantic stainless steel lizard, was revealed in its entirety in the gardens of the Nihondaira Hotel, which commands a majestic view over Mt Fuji. Basking under the radiant cherry blossoms, the lizard amazed all those who attended the unveiling ceremony. I assume that those of you who see the sculpture here for the first time today will also share in this amazement.
There is a concern that the destruction of the global environment, coupled with the ignorance and prejudice born of people's alienation from their natural surroundings, will lead to the extinction of wild rice and reptile species such as lizards. This sculpture is not meant to be an elegy for living creatures haunted by such a shadowy fate, but rather an expression to glorify the courage and robustness of nature through the promise of revival and restoration. I think that it is one of the reasons why Tanabe's sculpture amazes us all.
Lizards have artistically symbolized the sun and revival, being agile by nature, enjoying the sunlight, hibernating and shedding their skin. It is said that the image of lizards engraved on ancient gravestones and urns expressed the wish to swiftly transcend into the other world under the guidance of Apollo, God of Light. In Christian art of the medieval period, the image of lizards was used to decorate candle stands by people longing for the glory of God.
This long line of symbolism was particularly prevalent in Vienna, during the secession movements which occurred in Western Europe at the end of the 19th century. Even now, under the inscription on the front door of the Cesses Ion Hall, "Der Zeit ihre Kunst Der Kunst ihre Freiheit" ("To each time its art; to each art its freedom"), an entwined pair of lizards lithely yearning for the light of new art are engraved together with the monstrous head of Medusa, warding off evil spirits. I believe that Tanabe expresses in his lizard sculpture a determination to revive the original mission of the arts, where art serves as a precursor to the creation of public ideas.
This gigantic lizard (approximately 19 metres long and weighing approximately 11 tonnes) hints not only at Tanabe's profound knowledge in his advocacy of "preserving in-situ wild rice", but also at his lofty spirit, broad mind and expansive vision. This is a magnificent proposal to preserve a wild plant, the progenitor of cultivated rice, which is grown in the tropical wilderness without damaging the environment and ecology of marshlands where such rice is grown. This idea stands in marked contrast to the notion of gathering, protecting and cultivating only selected fauna and flora in flower beds, greenhouses or gardens. By recognising this difference, I am sure that you can appreciate the underlying significance of Tanabe's gigantic lizard. This is why businesspeople from Shimizu City in Shizuoka Prefecture have paid so much attention to Tanabe's arts and have continued to support him for so many years. They gather around Tanabe as an axis to discuss what they can do for the benefit of the public. I have attended their meetings for more than one occasion where heated discussions have been held on what can be done for the public good. The long-cherished desire of these members was finally fulfilled today, and I would like to congratulate them for the way in which their spirit of volunteerism has been manifested.
I am also honoured to say that the sculpture has been accepted by the Mareeba Wetland Foundation, an organisation which was brought to fruition by the devoted efforts of Gwyneth and Tim Nevard, two people whom I hold in great esteem. The wetland is highly praised as symbolising the essence of Australia's wilderness, and I am certain that many people will not only experience and learn from this wonderful habitat, but also receive from Tanabe's gigantic lizard the confidence and courage needed to revive and restore the best environment for the earth.
Tanabe uses a variety of materials for his artworks, including wood, stone and metal. For his stone sculptures located in the remote areas of northern Australia, for example, he laboured manually with a hammer and chisel, together with the cooperation of the Northern Territory Government, to produce carvings on natural boulders. On the other hand, Tanabe has produced numerous metal sculptures using industrial technology, employing stainless steel rolling technology as on this occasion, or stainless steel casting technology on others. The arts will certainly contribute to the progression of industrial technology through such collaborations. Katoh Company Ltd. from the industrial city of Kawasaki generously extended cooperation towards Tanabe's work on this occasion.
June 2006