'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.

The oldest extant picture of a sheep in Japan is probably the Shoso-in* treasure house’s folding screen panel with a design of a sheep under a tree (Hitsujiki Rokechi no Byobu). This is an abstract depiction of a sheep in a style reminiscent of continental Asia. Its abstract nature makes me think of something like the ancestors of sheep, but deterioration over the centuries has left it translucent, so it seems likely to disappear completely in the future. This made me think that we need to prepare a sheep to replace it.

*A building constructed in the 8th century to store the Emperor’s treasures.