“When I look at salt, I always think of the ancient times when this salt used to support someone else’s life, and that these salt crystals might contain the ‘memory of life’ from the past.”
Transience: Yamamoto Motoi creates art with salt and destroys his artworks at the last day of each exhibition, returning the salt to the sea. The Japanese artist started after the death of his sister when thinking about possession and loss. By today, he is one of the world's most renowned salt artists.
“I have been using salt for my installations for nearly 20 years. Salt is a sacred ingredient used for (mainly Buddhist) funerals in Japan. Salt also has an image worldwide as an essential ingredient that supports life”, states Yamamoto Motoi. The artist, born 1966 in Hiroshima, is currently living and working in Kanazawa, Japan. Involving long hours of artistic work, he draws large-scale patterns including labyrinth and swirls. On the last day of an exhibition, he destroys his installation and returns the salt to the sea.
Asked on why he started working with salt, he states: “The mainspring of my work is derived from the death of my sister from brain cancer at the age of 24 in the winter of 1994. Since then, I have had the dilemma, in grief and surprise, of thinking about what I had and what I had lost. I started making artworks that reflected such feelings and continued it as if I were writing a diary. Many of my works take the form of labyrinths with complicated patterns, ruined and abandoned staircases or too narrow lifesize tunnels, and all these works are made with salt.”
Salt has a high standing and long tradition in Japanese culture. In order to purify their spirits from the impurity of death after a funeral, people sprinkle salt on themselves. “In modern society, impurity may be understood as a non-desirable state, but it originally indicated an unstable state in general. Thus, in traditional Japanese society, people who were left in this world to live used to use salt in seeking peace and tranquility of mind.”
Motoi never erases any lines he draws or re-draws them because real life also cannot be redrawn or undone. His lines reflect himself and who he is at this moment. “Through accepting every occurrence, the relationship between me and the installation is constructed. This is what I impose upon myself.” He uses salt because it is essential to life and a sacred material that is strongly connected with life and death, two main themes of Motoi’s work. By creating artwork, he could accept and overcome the death of his sister. At this time, he used various materials like earth, wood or paper; to name a few. Then, in 1996, he discovered salt as a working material.
“In the fall of 1996, when I was working on an artwork about the subject of funerals, I came up with the idea to use salt. I made a salt bed, a deathbed, and exhibited it outdoors but a typhoon melted it and dissolved it back to earth during the exhibition.” Motoi especially likes about salt the “collection of transparent and clear cubes”. He is fascinated by the beauty of the sparkling, light-reflecting crystals and their colors when they are wet. Yamamoto Motoi was born in Japan and raised by his parents in a place characterized by Buddhism and Shintoism. When he talks about salt, he always refers to the Japanese culture. With his artwork, he wants to re-encounter precious memories of people who passed away. For him, salt is the best method to make this dream come true.
We also asked him why he works with salt and if he will continue working only with salt. Although he has been attached to salt very strongly for many years, Motoi responded: “But even with those feelings, salt is merely a material. There is always a possibility that I might use some other materials for installations in the future.”