Following the death of his sister to brain cancer twelve years ago, Motoi Yamamoto adopted salt as his primary medium. In Japanese culture salt is not only a necessary element to sustain human life, but it is also a symbol of purification. He uses salt in loose form to create intricate labyrinth patterns on the gallery floor or in baked brick form to construct large interior structures. As with the labyrinths and innavigable passageways, Motoi views his installations as exercises which are at once futile yet necessary to his healing.
Salt is a ubiquitous commodity, as it is found in all of the oceans of the world, and virtually all cultures use some variant of it in their diet. What began as an exploration of the practices of Japanese death culture and its use of salt has now become a more philosophical enquiry into the importance of this substance to life on the planet. He likes to think that the salt he uses might have been a life-sustaining substance for some creature. Yamamoto is interested in the interconnectedness of all living things and the fact that salt is something shared by all. For this reason, when his salt-works must be disassembled, he requests that the salt in his installation be returned to the ocean.
A labyrinth may be defined as “a path with a purpose.” There is usually a beginning and an end point. A maze has intentional dead-ends and false starts. On the surface, it would appear that Yamamoto’s works fall into the category of a maze. However, he states that it is his wish that the viewers may use his labyrinth installations as a tool for meditation and an opportunity to reach some final point in their own thoughts. It is interesting to note the similarities between Yamamoto’s drawings and the circuitry of the human brain. Knowing of his sister’s illness, it is not surprising that there is a visual connection between the installations and the source of their inspiration.
According to the artist, “ Drawing a labyrinth with salt is like following a trace of my memory. Memories seem to change and vanish as time goes by. However, what I seek is the way in which I can touch a precious moment in my memories that cannot be attained through pictures or writings. I always silently follow the trace, that is controlled as well as uncontrolled from the start point after I have completed it.” While working on these installations, Yamamoto says that he is only concerned with the “line,” and that the focus of his attention cannot waver from that. When asked about the lack of permanence of his works, the artist states “ It does not matter if the work lasts or does not last. I use salt. It lasts as long as it will.”