The salt labyrinths of Motoi Yamamoto

Motoi Yamamoto, Cherry Blossoms salt artwork 5

Born near Hiroshima in 1966, Motoi Yamamoto is definitely an unconventional artist.
After focusing initially on abstract painting, his art drastically evolved in the early 2000s, when he started creating stunning labyrinths entirely made of fine salt.

Above: Motoi Yamamoto, Sakura Shibefuru (Cherry Blossoms), 2021, Setouchi City Art Museum.

For years, Yamamoto had been looking for a language by which to revive and express the memory of his departed loved ones, especially his sister who died at 24 of a brain tumor in 1994.
The Japanese artist developed a very personal artistic language by combining a material that evokes the cycle of life, sea salt, with complex labyrinthine patterns, sort of large mandalas, he creates alone in churches, historic buildings, and museums. In Japanese culture, particularly in Shinto, salt is a symbol of purification and is widely used in religious rituals, especially at funerals.

“Many of my works are installations of huge patterns drawn with salt. By sitting on the floor and spending long hours drawing, perhaps I am trying to retain memories that fade with time. I create works to ward against the self-defense instinct of oblivion, looking for a convincing form of acceptance to come to terms with the parting of ways. (…) I started using salt because it represents purification and cleansing, but I was also strongly attracted to the whiteness, with its slightly transparent quality. Salt is a colorless and transparent cube, a crystal. (…) Moreover, the salt that forms an element of my works may have once supported our lives in the past. When I started embracing these kinds of thoughts, I began to feel that salt contained a “memory of life.”
Motoi Yamamoto

Motoi Yamamoto, salt labyrinth, Aigues Mortes

After working from a few days to several weeks to create his intricate patterns, at the end of the exhibition Yamamoto invites the public to “destroy” his work, taking a handful of salt and tossing it into the sea as soon as possible, so to restart the natural cycle by returning the salt to where it was collected from.

This procedure is part of a project, titled Return to Sea, Yamamoto started in 2006 with his Labyrinth installation, and that has been replicated several times since, at the same time experimenting with different types of patterns.

Motoi Yamamoto, salt Labyrinth installation, Cologne 1

Motoi Yamamoto, salt Labyrinth installation, Cologne 4

Motoi Yamamoto, salt Labyrinth installation, Cologne 2

Motoi Yamamoto, Labyrinth, 2010, Kunst Station St. Peter, Cologne, Germany, installation views; photos Stefan Worring.

Motoi Yamamoto, salt labyrinth, Aigues Mortes 3

UNIVERS’ sel / 2016, Fort of Aigues-Mortes, France, installation views.

Motoi Yamamoto, Return to Sea art project Cologne 2

Motoi Yamamoto, Return to Sea art project

At the end of the exhibitions, the labyrinths are destroyed by the public, and the salt they were made of is tossed in rivers and/or in the sea.

In the latest incarnation of the project, the Cherry Blossoms installation on view at the Setouchi City Art Museum from May 2021, the Japanese artist has created a large circle composed of tens of thousands of salt forms looking like the petals that fall from cherry trees at the end of spring. Once again, the work is a metaphor for the time passing by and the natural alternation of life and death, two subjects that are recurrent in Yamamoto’s work.

Motoi Yamamoto, Cherry Blossoms salt artwork 1

Motoi Yamamoto, Cherry Blossoms salt artwork 4

Motoi Yamamoto, Cherry Blossoms salt artwork 6

Sakura Shibefuru – Cherry Blossoms / 2021, Setouchi City Art Museum.

All images are courtesy of Motoi Yamamoto.


sponsored links


copyright Inexhibit 2021 - ISSN: 2283-5474