Why Does Motoi Yamamoto Create His Artworks With Salt?

In the past few months, a series of works by Tokyo artist Motoi Yamamoto have gone viral thanks to his unique medium - salt.

Within Japan, salt carries a different connotation than the west. Rather than jealousy and resentfulness, salt is sacred, and symbolises purification and cleansing. It’s used in ceremonies of death, such as in funerals to purify homes of spirits. Yamamoto too uses the material for its universality across all human cultures, as well as inside all living things.

Yamamoto states his works resemble the paths of his memories - the inspiration derives from the tragic passing of his sister and wife, and the following considerations of the temporary nature of our memories. On his website, he stated “what I sought for was the way in which I could touch a precious moment in my memories which cannot be attained through pictures or writing”.

Through the concentration and time necessary to create his artworks, Yamamoto creates a meditative practice - every piece is created in monastic silence, and through the ritual, he enters a trance that allows him to reconnect with the memories of his loved ones.

There’s a resemblance to Tibetan Mandalas, Zen dry gardens, as well as the ancient Japanese art of Bonseki - creating temporary art with sand in a tray.

Yamamoto creates his labyrinth-like formations by painting with the mineral from a small bottle, and then using precise sweeps of his hands. The works resemble maps, mazes, laces, and take days and weeks. Speaking to the College of Charleston, Yamamoto explained he uses a floor plan of an exhibition space to overlay his sketches for the works. However, he never knows the exact ending, instead creating instinctively, allowing the conditions and his feelings to shape the work.