'GOLDEN SHEEP' 2012-2013

In 2009, I was on a train heading from Paris to London. After we crossed the Strait of Dover, the English landscape came into view. The evening fog drifted over the coast like a ghost. Towering above the sea were cliffs, deserted apart from a lonely row of trees. I spotted a few small dots amid the misty green. Straining my eyes as I tried to make out what they were, I realized that they were sheep. It was the first time in my life that I’d seen sheep. Although it was just a momentary experience on a train, I was captivated by the beautiful sight of these sheep shrouded in mist.

The Japanese kanji character for “beauty” – a concept so integral to art – is said to be derived from the kanji character for “sheep.” Both in the East and the West, sheep have played a central role in our lives since antiquity, providing not only food and clothing, but also sacrificial offerings for the gods. If we imagine that this importance is connected to the abstract concept of beauty, then perhaps we could describe the view that I saw in the UK as “the origin of beauty.” Thinking about it this way, I was fascinated all over again.

It was only after the nation began to modernize after the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century that sheep became established in Japan. Although there had been attempts to breed sheep before then, Japan’s temperate humid climate did not suit these cold-loving creatures. The 8th-century Shoso-in treasure house contains a folding screen panel with a design of a sheep under a tree (Hitsujiki Rokechi no Byobu), which was painted in the Tenpyo era (710–794). It is thought to replicate a style of painting that came to Japan from Persia, but to me, it looks as though a Japanese person who had never seen a sheep depicted the hazy image that they had in their own mind. And this painting overlapped in my own mind with my memories of the sheep that I saw shrouded in mist in the UK. More than 1,260 years have passed since this picture was painted. I gradually began to think that I have a duty to create a sheep to replace it, before future deterioration makes its body disappear completely.