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Saltworks: Motoi Yamammoto, Memory, and Mazes

By December 11, 2014No Comments
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We here at MuralForm love art, not just wall murals and street art, so when something truly inspiring comes across our path, we have to share. Today, that thing is an item in everyone’s home turned into incredible art. It’s called Saltworks and it’s an ongoing project by Japanese artist Motoi Yamammoto that uses only one ingredient: salt.

Traditional Japanese funerals sometimes feature salt. Funeral goers will throw salt as an act of cleansing, which is where found his inspiration for Saltworks. Yamammoto grew up in Hiroshima and worked on the docks until he was 22 years old and able to support himself on his art, but it was six years later that a traumatic death in his family inspired him to make something beautiful. His sister died when he was 28 of a complicated form of brain cancer, leaving him devastated. Now he uses only salt to create beautiful patterns and incredible sculptures and each one can be seen as a method of cleansing himself, a way to grieve and think about life.

Most of his sculptures are extremely intricate labyrinths that takes hundreds of hours to complete, but each starts with Yamammoto thinking about his sister’s cancer. He takes 3-dimensional brain scans for his inspiration and flattens them for a floor exhibit. From there, he improvises the design as he works, leaving in imperfections and mistakes as a way to record the experience itself and, after the piece has been viewed for several weeks, he invites patrons to help with the cleanup. Together, they sweep up the salt, put it all in jars, and throw it all into the ocean, leaving a clean slate for Yamammoto to start anew.

For Yamammoto himself, the salt mazes are a connection to memory. In a recent interview, he explained that “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 to capture a frozen moment that cannot be attained through pictures or writings.” The art itself becomes a lived experience, one that is pushed away when it’s moment is over.

What makes Yamammoto’s art so powerful is its stunning complexity using an extremely mundane medium. We all have salt in our homes but unlike many common items, salt has a dense history and cultural significance around the world. By harnessing salt’s unique qualities, both in its own makeup and cultural importance, Yamammoto blends the mundane with the mystifying, tapping into an audience’s awe at his talent but also the materials itself. A perfect blend of talent and artistic beauty, form and content, and in doing so, he connects to other people’s memory, whether that’s the shared wonder that salt takes up in our cultures and practices, or deeply personal matters of grief, memory, and time.