Contemporary artist Motoi Yamamoto began working with salt predominantly after losing his 24 year-old sister to brain cancer in the mid 90’s. Since that initial period, his work has straddled a consistent balance between emotive and conceptual impulses. In particular, his ‘labyrinth’ series (which predominantly consists of intricate floor-level salt drawings) attests to the dual nature of his work as a whole.
On one hand, this series is as an outlet for Yamamoto’s grief. Relying on a sort of meditative despondence, he painstakingly determines uniform lines of salt on the gallery floor. Though the patterns are elaborately aligned, they nonetheless develop their own paths independent of the artist’s intentions. This sort of growth, change, and resolution mirrors the unpredictable waves of emotion that we all experience. In this sense, Yamamoto’s work hinges on empathy.
Yet if one were to fledge a holistic interpretation of his portfolio, it is necessary to investigate his conceptual backing as well. Many of these ideas stem from the artist’s exclusive use of harvested sea salt for his labyrinth installations. This seemingly minimal choice in material might actually be rather complex in that it speaks to the cyclical and overlapping nature of existence. Salt is inextricably linked to death rites in Japanese culture, but it is also an essential mineral that sustains all life on earth in one way or another. In other words, it is the common link that links every being throughout time and space. It is in this capacity that Yamamoto is able to co-exist with his sister despite her untimely death.
Perhaps these implications play out in the flesh as each installation is created, appreciated, and destroyed. Though Yamamoto strains salt from the ocean and constructs each labyrinth himself, the installations are incredibly communal. When the exhibition closes, Yamamoto invites the viewers to help him dismantle the installation and return the salt to the sea. By encouraging his audience to interact directly with the artwork in this manner, he creates a situation wherein the living, the deceased, and the unborn correspond in an immediate interrelationship – namely the juncture between life stages, life cycles, and lifetimes.
If you would like to learn more about Yamamoto and his work, be sure to visit his website where you have access to his artist statement as well as his different bodies of work. In the meantime, check out images cataloguing different manifestations of his labyrinth series in the gallery below.