Genetic Memory

Y's Gallery
Jan 19, 2017 9:09AM

by satoshi YABUUCHI(sculptor)

My work as a sculptor reflects a desire to give shape to everything I can see, feel and think - to try and express the spiritual world through a simple view of nature. I do not believe in the supremacy of mankind, we are simply a single aspect of a comprehensive whole that includes not only animals, plants and all organic life forms, but also inorganic objects such as rocks or metal that are not believed to harbor life, natural phenomena such as mountains, rivers, oceans the sky, clouds rain etc.,even the sun the moon the stars and everything else that forms a part of the universe.

With regard to life, I do not accept that we just suddenly emerge into this world from out of nowhere. A large proportion of our physical and mental attributes come from our parents who had in turn inherited them from their parents, each generation forming a single link in a chain that stretches back to the beginning of creation. The countless begins who were my ancestors down the ages may have met to love each other, or to eat each other. Through love they created a new life, through eating, two life forms merged, part of them being excreted to nourish yet more life. This is what religious people call reincarnation and what scientists refer to as the food cycle.

This philosophy is typical of the kind of traditional outlook on life are shared by the people of Asia and similar theories may be found in the writings and stories of ancient Europe, Africa or the native Indians. For this reason I feel that even before such concepts as science or religion became established in society, people shared an instinctive understanding of true meaning of life.

No matter how original they may try to be, artists throughout the world can only exercise their creativity within the context of their genetic memory.My own genes contain several thousand years of memories, not only of Japan, but of Asia in general and like it or not, I am forced to work within the limits these imposes upon me.

My sculpture owe their origins to the culture of ancient Chinese civilization. Not only are China and Japan very close geographically, but from the earliest times, China has had a profound influence on Japan both politically and culturally. China was as powerful in the East as Rome was in the West, absorbing culture and ideas from around the world then passing them on to the surrounding countries. In this respect the role it played could be said to be similar to that of the Mediterranean culture in Europe or even to the influence American culture has on the world today.Even things that seem uniquely Japanese can be found to have their roots in ancient China and for this reason, it can be said that of my works can be traced back to their roots in China, Eurasian and even India.

-Four Keywords-

There are four keywords that comprise a common theme that runs through all my work, some of it being based on a single keyword, others on a combination. I would like now to give a brief explanation of the meaning of these words as this will allow a greater understanding of my work.


Women's Armor -suspended Eyes

People sometimes refer to the body as being the vessel of life, but I prefer to think of it as a form of armor that the spirit dons for the duration of its sojourn on Earth. The energy of life is able to pass back and forth between this world and the next in an endless cycle but the body is a short-lived entity, discarded after each visit to be broken down into inorganic elements. At least this is what I believe and I think that it is because of this that we find sight of living creatures so beautiful and dear to us. My wooden sculptures are more than merely representational figures, they are"The Armor of life" in an effort to express this philosophy, I often create the head separate to the body, hollow out the inside and connect them with silk cords etc.



There is an old saying in Japan that translate as, God until seven. This stems from the belief that small children are closer to God than to the rest of humanity.This philosophy is hared by the people in many parts od Asia, where it is customary to select a small child who is then worshipped for period of several year as a reincarnation of God or Buddha. In the same way, the children that I create are not merely pre-adult people,but mysterious, God-like beings.

I also create numerous demon children. These are all depicted nude with a single, small horn growing out of their heads.

 Japanese "demons" are not necessary evil, as they are in the West, and many of them are simply the anthropomorphism of various natural phenomenon. They stand somewhere between God (or Buddha) and mankind, endowed with a superhuman strength, they help or punish mankind while teaching us the will of heaven.

The children that I produce are all bright and innocent but hiding a childish streak of cruelty. They surpass both time and space, to appear in numerous places and play various roles. They may portray the hero in a story or appear in a historical scene, symbolizing a particular notion or concept, playing in the space that divides fantasy from reality.


Some Denizens of the forest -Rabbits

Animals are also an important subject of my work. As I said earlier, I believe that fundamentally there is no real difference between humans and animals and it is mere chance that I happen to be born in human form in this world to act out my current personality.

As a child, my greatest friend was a bog. I have raised numerous dogs during my lifetime and was at their side when they died. I have also kept and studied numerous other small animals but I feel that my relationship with them was much closer when I was a child than it is now.

I do not use a model when creating my animals sculptures, I simply recall the feel of them that remains my hand and let them take shape naturally.


My works are not all individual, complete expressions, in some of them, the subject moves very slightly in each work to create a movement in a away similar to that used in motion pictures. My aim is not to create stationary shapes, but rather to try and produce an expression of the passage of time. Sometime I will use two objects to express a single situation. Active and passive, positive and negative. In the work showing five children, each pronouncing one of the vowels or the series of a dog walking, the modification and flow of the shapes creates a expression of time passing. Also, in an effort to show they live in a different time axis I sometime depict them appearing suddenly from out of a wall then disappearing back into it again.

-Technique and Materials-

Lllustration of Technique and Materials: Arhat(Buddha's Disciple)

I would like, now, to give a brief description of the techniques and materials I use in my work. When we Japanese talk of sculpture, we generally think of wooden Buddhist statuary. It is said that Japanese culture can be traced back for approximately two thousand years, and during this period, approximately ninety percent of all the sculpture that has been produced is made of wood, metal, stone or other materials accounting for the remaining ten percent.

Looked at historically, it can be said that the Chinese worked mainly in stone and pottery in their formative arts while Koreans preferred to stone and metal. Although these two countries are very close geographically and resemble each other spiritually and culturally, the choice of materials has been strongly influenced by the natural environment and character of the inhabitants. In Japan the preference for wood was not confined solely to sculpture and a similar ratio used to be seen in architecture, the crafts and everyday utensils.

 My works are all carved from Japanese cypress, a conifer native to Japan, and then coated with lacquer- a beautiful kind of paint derived from the sap of the lacquer tree. They are then colored using mineral pigments mixed with animal glue. This technique was developed over one thousand years ago in the production of Buddhist statues and other crafts. I also employ two techniques, developed in traditional Japanese sculpture, to produce the wooden base for the carving, one is called "Kiwari" and the other is "Yosegi." "Kiwari" is a method by which each of the sections of the statue can be calculated to the same ratio, thus allowing the wood to be cut to the necessary lengths. The wood used in sculpture is not single block, but comprises of several lengths of rectangular lumber that have been joined together to create a strong base.(illustration1)

This mot only means that no wood is wasted, but also that the various sections of the figure can be separated and worked on simultaneously by numerous sculptors. This is what is known as "Yosegi." The use of these techniques made it possible to create standardized, highly finished buildings or sculptures in large quantities in a short time and although they were developed approximately one thousand years ago, they are very similar to those used on production lines today. (illustration2,3)

In order to prevent the work splitting as the wood dries, the statues are split in two and the wood on the inside removed making them hollow. This techniques is known as "Uchiguri." 

The photograph entitled "Arhat(Buddha's Disciple)" provides a good example of the way these various techniques have been put to use. The body, from the shoulder to the waist, comprises of six vertical pieces of woo, while the head, both arms and both legs have been made from separate pieces of wood and fitted on later illustrating the " Yosegi" technique and the interior has also been hollowed out using the "Uchiguri" technique. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston house superb collections of old Japanese art and majority of the wooden Buddhist statues they have on display were made using the same techniques as this statue. Once the basic figure has been made in this way it is then given a coating of natural lacquer and colored using natural mineral pigments mixed with animal glue. (illustration4)

Although the sculptors of Buddhist statues still use these traditional techniques in their work, I think it is safe to say that there are very few other people who use them in contemporary art. I learned them through the experience I gained whilst working on the renovation of approximately forty old Buddhist statues and I continued to use them today, not in a traditional context, but in contemporary art.


As an island nation on the fringes of East Asia, Japan was able to go its own way for most of its history. In particular, the isolationist policy it followed from the seventeenth to mid-nineteenth century, forbidding nearly all contact with the outside world, resulted in the creation of a unique culture. The formative and performing arts that blossomed during this period, sukiya-style architecture, kabuki, sumo, woodblock prints, netsuke, etc., where to make a strong impression on the West. However, since its defeat in the Second World War, it has given itself wholeheartedly to the adoption of the American lifestyle and capitalist philosophy, resulting in the virtual disappearance of the subtle culture and unique lifestyle that had flowered there for centuries. This is a problem is shares with the rest of East Asia and appears to be the price to pay for rapid economic development. The people of Asia did not participate in the voyages of discovery or the creation of colonial emprise and they are now struggling to find a way to reconcile their culture and national identity with rapid industrialization and rampant blobalization.

However, I believe that it is not the politicians or the economists who will be able to present the people with a new way of living or create new set of values, but the artists of the various countries who have been guaranteed the freedom of expression. Asian artists bear a heavy responsibility to bring out the memories contained within their genes, but at the same time, they are standing on the threshold of what promises to be a very interesting period.

Y's Gallery