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  • July 2012 (3)
  • June 2012 (6)
  • May 2012 (13)



    Dismantling Ceremony | Thu. Jul. 19, 2012

    Hundreds of people helped to dismantle Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamotoon on July 7th.

    Visitors were invited to collect the salt using the original 194 cans of Morton Salt that Yamamoto had used for the exhibit, and others brought their own bags, tea tins, and buckets. We provided pieces of Plexiglass to scrape up the humidity-hardened grains, but some people just used their hands or credit cards — we even saw someone risking their iPhone to get the floor clean.

    Although the artist wasn’t able to join us in person, Motoi was hooked up via Skype to a television overlooking the dismantling. His dedicated translator had joined him (it was 5 a.m. in Japan) so guests could ask him questions through the cyber-tube.

    It took about 45 minutes to get the floor (somewhat) clean, and from there guests headed to the Maritime Center to return the salt to the sea (or in this case, Charleston Harbor).

    Director & Producer: Dave Brown

    This video documents the dismantling of Yamamoto’s salt installation at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art for Spoleto Festival USA 2012 and the ceremonious return to the sea.


    Motoi and the Labyrinth | Wed. Jul. 4, 2012

    Along with the intricate web of salt that Yamamoto Motoi has delicately and carefully woven on the floor of the Halsey Institute, are drawings, prints, and a sketchbook by the artist, and two videos produced by the Halsey. One of the videos, produced by Mark Sloan and John Reynolds, is mini-documentary that highlights through interviews, film footage and photographs, Motoi’s previous saltworks installations.  During the interviews, Motoi relays how he came upon the form of the labyrinth, and how in recent years he moved away from this pattern in favor of the ‘floating garden’, which now decorate the Halsey’s main gallery floor.  This mention of labyrinths peaked our curiosity, from both a historical perspective, and in regards to Motoi’s body of work.

    Labyrinths appeared in the petroglyphs of Goa in the northern part of India as early as 2500 BCE, and are found in early Native American, Minoan, and Egyptian cultures as well. The Labyrinth pattern was stamped on Cretan coins beginning in 430 BCE, and was later adopted by the Romans as a decorative mosaic tile pattern. Christians used the labyrinth to decorate their cathedral floors, in patterns often large enough to be retraced by foot.   

    In western culture, the knowledge of, and misconceptions towards labyrinths seem to stem from one source- the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.  The story goes that to pay tribute to King Minos for the wrongful death of his son, the city of Athens (of which Theseus’ father Aegeus ruled) must every seven years send seven youths and seven maidens to be sacrificed to the Minotaur.  The monstrous Minotaur, half man, half bull, was the bastard offspring of King Minos’ wife and a beautiful bull.  The bull, a sacrificial gift from Poseidon, was too grand a creature to slay in the king’s eyes, and Minos kept the animal for himself.  As punishment, Poseidon made the queen fall in love with the bull, with the Minotaur as the beastly result of their affair.  Rather than killing the bastard monster, Minos had the palace architect Daedalus build a labyrinth in which the Minotaur would be forever imprisoned.  It was into this labyrinth that the fourteen young Athenians would be sent to certain death.  Theseus, whose goal it was be as heroic as his cousin Hercules, volunteered to be part of the human tribute, telling only his father Aegeus that he intended to slay the Minotaur.  He promised his father that if victorious, he would hoist a white sail upon his return, and if he perished at the hands of the Minotaur, a black sail would be raised. 

    As the Athenians were paraded through the streets of Crete to the labyrinth, King Minos’ daughter Ariadne saw Theseus and immediately fell in love.  She vowed to help Theseus escape from the labyrinth if he promised to take her back to Athens and marry her.  Theseus agreed, and Ariadne conspired with Daedalus to help him escape.  One the day of sacrifice, Ariadne gave Theseus a string to trail along behind him as he navigated the labyrinth so he would not lose his way.  When Theseus finally encountered the Minotaur, the beast was asleep, and Theseus jumped upon the monster and killed him with his bear hands.  The hero then followed the string back out of the labyrinth, gathered his soon-to- be-bride and the thirteen other young Athenians, and set sail for home.  Here the story has different versions, but on the voyage home Ariadne was either left behind or died at sea.  Either from grief of his loss, or in jubilation of his success, Theseus forgot to hoist the white flag alerting his father of his safe return.  King Aegeus saw the black flag on the horizon, and thinking his son dead, threw himself into the sea.

    And that, dear readers, is the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, and of how the Aegean Sea got its name.  It is also the source of confusion regarding the nature and layout of a labyrinth.  By definition, a labyrinth is an intricate structure of interconnecting passages through which it is difficult to find one’s way. Figuratively, it is something highly intricate or convoluted in character, composition, or construction.  However intricate, a labyrinth has only one way in and one way out, with no dead ends, no crossroads, and no choice of which path to take.  As long as the traveler continues onward, he will arrive at the center, and easily navigate his way out again.  However, a maze- also defined as an intricate and confusing set of interconnecting passages- has one significant difference.  A maze is a puzzle with no promise of certain success.  If Theseus had entered a true labyrinth, the string that helped him navigate the passages would have been quite unnecessary.  In truth, Theseus set off to slay the Minotaur in a maze, not a labyrinth, though the two words have been used interchangeably ever since. 

    Dismantling Greek mythology with rationality and semantics may seem tedious and a bit unsavory, but there is a point.  Both in its construction and symbolism, a labyrinth is by its very nature a hopeful thing. In creating his salt labyrinths, Motoi is engaged in a conversation with the memory of his sister, who passed away from brain cancer at the age of 24.  Placing the idea of a memorial to his sister at the front of his mind, Motoi begins his labyrinth. Motoi understands that the passages and pathways of salt may not connect to form a true labyrinth, but through the process of creation, he forms a connection with the memory of his sister.  Whether or not the viewer is aware of Motoi’s intention and inspiration, it is impossible to look upon his work and not find an astoundingly beautiful, hard won, and hopeful truth. 

    Environmental Concerns for Spilling 400lbs of Salt into the Cooper River | Mon. Jul. 2, 2012

    As many of you know (and for those who don’t!), on July 7th there is a public dismantling ceremony for Return to the Sea. All are invited and welcome to participate in what will surely be a touching and exciting event! As the exhibition title suggests, we will be pouring the salt from Motoi Yamamoto’s installation into the Cooper River from the Harbor Aquarium Wharf.

    A big question that many locals and environmental supporters have asked is, “will dumping almost 400 pounds of salt into the Cooper River be damaging to the environment?”. The Halsey Institute asked marine biologist and College of Charleston professor Andrew Shedlock about the environmental concerns. Bottom line, there are no environmental dangers at all. In fact, adding salt to the area makes it more natural! 

    Let’s break this down: the Cooper River is a brackish river system, which means that it has more salt water than fresh water, but not as much as the sea. The salinity levels fluctuate daily due to the tide bringing in more salt water from the ocean, mixing with its natural fresh water system. Due to the large size of the Cooper River, a spike in salinity level, like adding 400 pounds of salt, is simply a drop in the bucket. It would only change about 1,000 gallons of fresh water into salt water. To compare, an Olympic swimming pool holds 660,000 gallons of water.

    Salinity levels aside, a lot of concern have been for the plants and animals living in and around the Wharf. Luckily in this world, evolution occurs and acts upon these lovely creatures. These animals are biologically designed to live in this brackish water system and are used to having daily fluctuations of salinity. In fact, the salinity levels recently are at it’s all time low so dumping salt back into the sea is actually creating a more natural environment for all involved.

    We welcome all questions and concerns, so if you would like a more in depth answer, please call the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at 843.953.4422. Be sure to listen for updates as July 7th gets closer. We will be open our regular hours, 11am-4pm and will begin the dismantling around 4pm.


    Seeing Is Believing | Thu. Jun. 21, 2012

    When visitors walk into the gallery, we hear gasps, see quiet smiles, and receive questions and comments in shocked voices about how amazing and beautiful the exhibition is. Being asked “How did he do this?; How long did it take?: Is it really JUST salt?” is quite common. The best part, however, is hearing what our visitors see for themselves in Motoi’s salt patterns. Usually Motoi meditates on forms in nature while creating his sketches and outlines for the works, but remains quiet on what the piece actually is, preferring his viewers to come up with their own ideas.

    About a week ago, we started keeping a list of what our visitors saw in the salt– this blog post is dedicated to our loyal visitors and their “salt visions”.

    #1: Hurricane pattern

    Lots of visitors believe the swirl in the middle of the installation is the eye of a hurricane, or a tropical storm in the middle of the ocean. There definitely seems to be a storm a-brewin’ in the Halsey.

    #2: Fiber art

    Other visitors say the saltwork reminds them of a lace or crocheted doily or blanket. More than one person has been moved by the exhibition because it reminds them of their grandmother’s or mother’s lace patterns. The delicacy of Motoi’s handiwork gives the installation a soft and moving feeling. (Always remember, look but don’t touch until July 7th!)

    #3: Sea + Creatures

    A few of our more imaginative visitors see literal objects within the salt. Our favorites are whales swimming, dragons, fish, and bubbles!

    #4: Keith Haring

    If you’ve been by the Halsey before, you’ve seen all of our sweet Motoi merchandise, like our tote bag and Return to the Sea exhibition catalogue. Examples of Motoi’s past works are captured within the pages. A couple of visitors note that Motoi’s Labyrinth series look like Keith Haring’s geometric patterns!

    It is so much fun, not to mention inspirational, seeing Motoi’s work in person, and guessing what it is is half the fun. As one 8 year old visitor noted, “It doesn’t matter what is right or wrong, if it is art, it’s always right!”

    Creations on the Salt Table | Mon. Jun. 18, 2012

    We’re all amazed by the salt creations of Motoi Yamamoto and everyone finds themselves wondering how in the world he does it. As we learned in a previous post, Motoi uses a tool similar to a ketchup bottle to draw his elaborate designs. For those of us who are feeling inspired to attempt Motoi’s wondrous skill, we have installed a salt table in the gallery and Motoi was kind enough to leave behind one of his bottles.

    The results have been awesome. All ages have attempted the process and grown a new appreciation for Motoi’s skill- it is certainly not as easy as he makes it out to be. Motoi tried to teach some lucky people how to master his art, but to no avail- twelve years of experience wins every time.

    Books on Japanese Art and Culture | Mon. Jun. 11, 2012

    We receive lots of questions here at the Halsey about Motoi’s choice of salt as a medium for work, (see blog post below for more details). Though the use of salt has a very personal meaning for Motoi, salt also holds an important place in Japanese culture! In ancient Japan, salt was considered a sacred element due to its laborious mining process and preservative qualities. The Japanese were mining salt as early as the 8th century and its importance as a resource quickly became incorporated into local mythology. As such, it became an integral part of Japanese rituals: purifying Shinto religious sites, aiding in mourning of relatives in funerals and used as offerings to the gods.

    Need a few more examples? The Halsey Institute’s Library has a plethora of books on Japanese art and culture, including Takamiyama: The World of Sumo by Jesse Kuhaulua. Sumo wrestlers traditionally throw salt on to the ring, the dohyo, in the beginning of their match as a way to purify themselves, drive evil spirits away and also as a show of character of the opponents.

    Purification is a major part of Japanese daily life, as salt is used to preserve food and resist rot. Many times, you’ll find small pyramids of salt outside of restaurants and houses as a demonstration of purity and cleanliness of the owner.

    The idea of preservation translates into Motoi’s work as well, as creating his saltworks is a meditative and therapeutic process for himself; a way to hold on and preserve his memories of his deceased sister. While you’re visiting the Halsey Institute, take a moment to flip through both our Return to the Sea and Force of Nature catalogues.

    The Library collection at the Halsey Institute also has great books to see other examples of Japanese art, including quite a few on bamboo arts and contemporary Japanese art forms. To check out books, you must be a member of the HICA, but all are welcome to spend a few hours sifting through our amazing collection!

    For more information on the HICA Library, come into the Halsey from 11-4 Monday-Saturdays (open until 7pm on Thursdays!), email our Media Specialist, Sarah Bandy, Halsey_Library@cofc.edu or call 843-953-4422!

    Look like a satellite image of a hurricane to you? You’re not alone… | Fri. Jun. 8, 2012

    Considering our geographic location and Charleston’s history with hurricanes, many viewers have made this connection. While Motoi intends for each viewer to apply different associations to his works, the form is an organic shape found extensively throughout nature, not specifically hurricanes. This series of swirl installations known as Floating Gardens began in Japan in 2009 and the current exhibition at the Halsey is the first Floating Garden in the United States.

    In his studio in Japan, Yamamoto created many sketches to explore the natural spiral form. Using a variety of sharp pencils, he works on a white ground created by applying acrylic gesso on wooden panels. He then photographs the resulting drawings and prints the negative of the images on Japanese paper. The choice to use both positive and negative images further reinforces the artist’s concepts regarding the duality of life and death.


    How does he do it? | Thu. Jun. 7, 2012

    Many of our visitors have been wondering how Motoi Yamamoto draws with such precision. The lines that run within his work are beautifully thin and delicate, but pronounced. How does he do it?

    He uses a squeeze bottle! And no, he doesn’t add any water or binders to keep the salt together. He works swiftly, embracing any mistakes because “they are a part of life.” The bottle is intended to grease bicycle chains and is similar to one you might use for ketchup; a simple utensil used to create a complex work of art. Like you, we are forever in awe!

    Want to try it out yourself? Visit our salt table in the wood-floor gallery! Motoi was generous enough to leave one of the bottles he used to create the floating garden installation for Return to the Sea. You’ll have an even greater appreciation after giving it a go. And hey, parents: kids love this one!

    Check out the fun creations on the salt table by clicking here.

    The Artist and His Medium | Tue. Jun. 5, 2012

    The bond between an artist and his medium is an intimate one. The medium both constrains the artist to work within physical boundaries of the stuff, and challenges the artist to push those boundaries to their limit, and through manipulation find new modes of expression. In the Halsey’s exhibition, Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto, the artist expands the viewers understanding of the medium- in this case salt- to magnificent and etheral proportions.

    Before Motoi arrived, the Halsey purchased some 350 plus pounds of table salt from a local caterer. But not all table salt is created equal, and not all working conditions are the same. Uniformity of grains and salts ability to flow freely are important to Motoi, as they ensure quality of line and ease of application. Before the salt goes into the ketchup–like applicator bottle, it is run through a sieve to filter out dust and debris, and to break up any salt clumps. The slickness of the Halsey’s treated concrete floor, and the ever-present summer humidity in Charleston presented challenges for Motoi. After experimenting with three different brands, Motoi settled for none other than Morton’s Salt.

    Morton’s Salt was founded in 1889, and in 1911 the company began adding magnesium carbonate, an anti-caking agent, to keep the salt from clumping in humid and rainy weather. Calcium silicate has now replaced magnesium carbonate, and the company built their brand on the salts ability to pour in any climate. By 1914, the company adopted the slogan “When It Rains It Pours” (a positive twist of the old proverb “It never rains but it pours”) along with the Morton Salt Umbrella Girl, and advertisements began to run in Good Housekeeping Magazine the same year. The Morton Salt Umbrella girl has changed looks a few times since her debut, with the last outfit and hairstyle change dating back to 1968. Morton’s developed iodized salt in 1924, and at the request of the FDA, stamped every container with the statement “This salt provides iodide, a necessary nutrient.” Iodide aided in the prevention of goiters, which were prevalent at the time.

    Over the years, Morton’s Salt has deeded or donated 1,610 acres of land to the Nature Conservancy and as wildlife preservation areas. In 2011, Fortune included Morton’s Salt in their list of “100 Great Things About America”. We are delighted that Motoi Yamamoto found salt perfection in the iconic American household staple that is Morton’s Salt.

    To see early examples of Morton’s Salt packaging and other cool stuff, visit The American Package Museum at www.packagemuseum.com, and Morton’s Salt at www.mortonsalt.com.

    Wondering how we obtained 440 pounds of salt? | Thu. May. 31, 2012

    The answer is not as simple as you may think.

    Apparently, all salt is not equal and Motoi can quickly recognize what he will be able to use. Originally, the Halsey ordered about 400 pounds of salt through our catering company at the College. Unfortunately, the grains were irregularly shaped and only about two thirds went through Motoi’s sifter- not exactly ideal for his work.

    Upon this realization, we quickly went to a local grocery store to get a different kind so he could get to work. Again, the irregularity of the grains prevented him from sifting the salt and it was deemed “no good”. So, back to Harris Teeter we went! And what do you know, the third time’s a charm! Morton’s table salt (specifically in the 26 ounce canister) was a home run. This type of container successfully keeps out moisture and humidity (which can affect the shape of each grain of salt). With the right salt found, the interns set out to collect as much of it as we could. After wiping out all three grocery stores on the peninsula, we cleared out James Island. A few grocery stores, a lot of odd looks, and 187 containers of salt later, we have our beautiful installation.

    After his success with this specific salt, Motoi plans to use Morton’s salt in his upcoming exhibitions in the United States.

    Opening Night of Return to the Sea! | Tue. May. 29, 2012

    We had our official opening last Thursday, May 24, and what a wonderful evening it was, featuring Japanese-inspired food and Taiko Charleston drummers. If you didn’t make it, come see Motoi Yamamoto’s stunning saltworks soon!

    Reflections on the viewing platform | Tue. May. 22, 2012

    The viewing platform in the gallery not only offers an elevated perspective of the installation, it also provides a mirror image on the plexi-glass. The reflections are stunning!

    Patron Preview Party | Fri. May. 18, 2012

    On Thursday May 17, our Patron Members were invited to a preview party for the exhibition. Our Members’ support is vital to the continued development of the Institute and our programming. To learn more about our Membership program and the variety of stratified perks, please click here.

    Day seven of residency | Thu. May. 17, 2012

    New Banner! | Thu. May. 17, 2012

    Check out our new banner at the Calhoun Street entrance! This is sure to catch the attention of passers-by!

    Day Six of Residency | Wed. May. 16, 2012

    Motoi Merch | Wed. May. 16, 2012

    We have new merchandise for the exhibition (catalogue and tote bag). The catalogue includes essays by Mark Sloan, senior curator and director at the Halsey, and Mark Kurlansky, author of the New York Times best seller, Salt: A World History, and over 100 images documenting twelve years of the artist’s saltworks around the world.

    Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto

    170 pages


    Price: $29.95
    + $5 shipping and handling

    To purchase, please contact Halsey Institute Assistant Director, Karen Ann Myers, myerska@cofc.edu or 843-953-4422. We accept cash, check or credit card payments.

    As a Halsey Institute member, you could receive 20% OFF this publication and all Halsey merchandise! To learn more, click here.

    If you buy this catalogue AND the Force of Nature catalogue, you receive the tote-bag for free!




    Day four of residency | Tue. May. 15, 2012

    Motoi has begun! | Mon. May. 14, 2012

    Motoi has begun! So excited for Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto!

    Viewing Platform Finished! | Thu. May. 10, 2012

    Thank you Clemson Architecture’s Studio V students! The viewing platform looks great – We can’t wait to show it off to all the gallery visitors!

    Check out CAC.C Studio V’s blog of their design + build process :: http://caccstudiov.com/ 

    Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto | Sat. May. 5, 2012

    We are getting so excited for Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto. The centerpiece of the exhibition will be a site-specific installation created entirely out of salt by the artist during his two-week residency, May 17 – 24. Come by and check it out!

    Viewing Platform being built | Tue. May. 1, 2012

    Clemson Architecture has begun to install the viewing platform for Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto!

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