Motoi Yamamoto: A Labyrinth of Salt

Rebekah Jacob


Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto

“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. What I look for at the end of the act of drawing could be a feeling of touching a precious memory.” – Motoi Yamamoto


Working seated cross-legged on the floor of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art is internationally renowned Japanese artist, Motoi Yamamoto. As part of the Spoleto Festival, the contemporary artist is creating a site-specific installation of his intricate salt work over the course of two weeks. The show premieres May 24 and will be on-view until July 7. The Halsey gallery has created platforms for the exhibit upon which visitors can come and observe the artist at work during his residency.


Throughout the ages of Japanese history, salt has played an elemental role in cultural and spiritual tradition. Salt has acted as a symbol of mourning and is often mythically related to taboos and superstitions, spiritually representing purification. Yamamoto himself first connected with the element as he mourned the loss of his sister. An artist of contemporary content and experimental medium, Motoi began using salt in his work as a means of preserving her memory. This idea of visually interacting with memory became fundamental to Motoi’s artistic process and has extended to cultural preservation and universal commentary. Curator and director of the Halsey Institute Mark Sloan says of Motoi, “His art radiates an intense beauty and tranquility, but also conveys something ineffable, painful, and endless.”


At the end of the installation, the salt will be returned to the sea–a ritual act that has become Motoi’s tradition as it offers the benefits of salt to the organisms of the waters. The artist embraces the ephemeral nature and transient universality of his seemingly commonplace medium. Charleston will be the first stop of Motoi’s traveling exhibit and the Halsey will act as an introductory space for a work that is largely unseen in the United States.