completed a work titled BIRD - Seaside Vegetable Kingdom - Niijima in February
1996 as a part of the Koga Stone Sculpture Festival, an event held annually on
the island of Niijima to promote the local stone industry.|
His work was installed on Wada Beach, a site of rare seaside vegetation. One component of the work was a 105-meter row of 22 identical columns, rectangular parallelpiped forms carved from Koga stone. The other part, 400 meters away, was a relief sculpture of a bird's head and an egg carved into a large boulder at the based of a cliff facing the ocean. In the center of the row of columns, he affixed a bronze plate showing the head of a bird and inscribed in large letters with the words, "Seaside Vegatable Kingdom, Niijima, Tokyo." On the back of the boulder with the relief was another carved inscription, "BIRD - Seaside Vegetable Kingdom."
Ordinarily, Tanabe's monuments are very large, centrally focused, and make maximum use of spatial and material effects. These are the classic characteristics of a monument. BIRD, however, was not a physically imposing work and it did not have a strong central focus. Its components were dispersed over a wide area, and their size and material presence did not have an overwhelming effect on the viewer. The columns were only 120 centimeters high and the relief carved into the rock was just 5 centimeters deep. The carving was unobtrusive, conforming to the natural pattern of the rock.
This work is innovative because it incorporates the total surrounding environment and makes it a part of the art. BIRD is not composed only of the colonnade, the bronze plate, and the relief on the rock. It also includes a naturally growing seaside vegetable kingdom with an area of 20 hectares, the large rock and the shore where it is located, and the overall environment surrounding everything.
For the purposes of this work, it may have been necessary for the colonnade and the relief to be physically and spatially limited. The artificial elements were ephemeral and scattered. They harmonized with the environment, and the environment was incorporated into the work. BIRD includes elements with the absolute and universal qualities of nature and they have a solid, unmoving presence.
BIRD shows "traces of spirit" engraved on nature. The carving of the bird and egg form seems awkward at first glance, but the resulting images differ from both abstract art and realistic or representational art. The esthetic qualities are similar to those of short poems like haiku, the miniature Japanese gardens called bonsai and bonseki, and picturesque European gardens containing ruins. They might be described with such Japanese esthetic terms as wabi (unadorned, rustic beauty), sabi (a simple, melancholic elegance), and karumi (lightness or light-heartedness). The restrained expression of BIRD is suggestive rather than definitive. It leaves a pleasant aftertaste, giving a distinctive esthetic character to the work. It recalls the poetry monuments found in the mountains and countryside of Japan. Yojo (aftertaste or reverberation) is an important key word for thinking about the possibilities of universal and socially relevant art.The work is a metaphor for the natural environment. It arouses elusive thoughts about the natural environment in viewers and makes them aware of the wonderful and precious qualities of nature in this particular place.
Translated by Stanley N. Anderson