Galloping Nambu breed horse

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The Nambu horse is a breed of horse unique to Japan that is now extinct. This animation work, Galloping Nambu breed horse, depicts it resurrected as an ice sculpture, running across a snowfield.
The Nambu stallion is extolled in the Gosen Wakashu, a tenth-century (Heian Period) anthology of waka poetry, but pure Nambu horses disappeared as a result of reforms in the Meiji Period (1868–1912) that required native Japanese horses to be crossed with foreign breeds as part of efforts to boost Japan’s wealth and military strength. There are few extant records of these horses, but based on the skeleton of the last Nambu horse—preserved at the Morioka Agricultural High School—the artist created twelve sculptures, outputting them in 3D and freezing them in conditions that would form icicles to bulk up their surfaces, thereby resurrecting the Nambu breed as translucent white horses with thin coats of ice.
The sight of a pure white horse running free and happy in the snow of Aomori—which has deep snowfalls in winter—is beautiful, a fairy tale ending. Nevertheless, Nambu horses were selectively bred to enhance their role, which involved functioning as a means for transporting goods for farmers, as weapons for soldiers to fight with, or as eye-candy and a symbol of financial power for nobility. Eventually, the cross-breeding to produce stronger battle horses under the Meiji restoration reforms resulted in the Nambu horses disappearing into the gene pool of mixed breeds. Thinking of its history of being manipulated and pushed around by humanity, the resurrection of this horse in ghostly form can be interpreted as a critical comment on human activity in the Anthropocene.
Galloping Nambu breed horse is also an homage to Eadweard Muybridge’s groundbreaking photographs of horses in motion which consisted of series of shots in quick succession and became a vital step in the development of motion pictures. Shooting this animation in monochrome gives it a nostalgic air, harking back to the time of gelatin-silver photographs and black-and-white movies. The sense of loss for the Nambu horse, which disappeared with the advent of newer technology, is accentuated by shooting in analog technology from the early days of photography, rather than using today’s digital technology.
(Text: Yohsuke Takahashi)

This work was produced during an on-site residency for my solo exhibition atTowada Art Center. In the past, Towada City in the Aomori Prefecture was one of Japan’s leading horse breeding regions. The Nambu breed Horse, a Japanese stallion raised at that time, is now extinct despite having been a key presence that supported the lives of the local people. Although there are a few references to date that present an accurate physical description of the Nambu breed horse, a skeleton specimen of “Mori-go,” the last great stallion of its kind, remains preserved at Morioka Agricultural High School. I restored the legendary horse based on the reference documents I found, and made an animation work of it running across the snowfi elds of Towada.
Back in the 19th century, it was very common for people and horses to live together under one roof in Japan. These traditional L-shaped houses were known as “Nambu Magariya” (Nambu Bent House). Here, the residence (main house) where people lived, were connected to the horse stables. Such houses still remain in various parts of Japan, especially in the former provinces of the Nambu clan (the region that spans eastern Aomori., northern and central Iwate, and northeast Akita). There were indeed times when humans had used horses to cultivate fi elds, as well as carry and transport heavy loads. Perhaps in these days there was a perceptive world of sorts that existed through a communication with horses.
* Reprinted from AKI INOMATA, Significant Otherness, tr. Kei Benger, Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppan-sha, 2020, p.133.

  • Galloping Nambu breed horse
  • Galloping Nambu breed horsePhoto: Kuniya Oyamada
  • Galloping Nambu breed horsePhoto: Kuniya Oyamada
  • Galloping Nambu breed horsePhoto: Wakabayashi Hayato
  • Galloping Nambu breed horsePhoto: Wakabayashi Hayato
  • Galloping Nambu breed horsePhoto: Osamu Sakamoto
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