Born in 1966 near Hiroshima, Motoi Yamamoto concluded his Bachelor of Arts in 1995 at Kanazawa College of Art. The loss of his younger sister, when he was 27, strongly upset his life; thus the art became the most important way to remember her. That is how he started his artistic path.
Where do memories belong to? To the brain; and what if the brain becomes a 2D representation of our memories? How does it look like? Looking for an answer, he started drawing labyrinths mixing 2D with 3D sculpting elements. All his work includes references from his Japanese roots: the Labyrinth, whose regular geometries and lines remind us of the buddhist Mandalas.
''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. What I look for at the end of the act of drawing could be a feeling of touching a precious memory..''
While he was experimenting with his art and mediums, he found a good image to convey the idea of memory. That was the turning point. The strict lines of his oldest work couldn’t totally grant these new elements. He needed something more inconsistent. He looked to nature and he found in its shapes and element the spiral, the line that better accepted his artistic concept. His memories were now grouped in a less regular geometry but more related to nature (we can recognize shapes such as typhoons and storms). Spiral means life, death and reincarnation, it stands for the ephemeral life. "Returning to the sea" shows how a personal artwork could include universal meanings through the audience's feedback. All the graphic elements remain strongly related to his personal memory and life experience, nevertheless the simple act to destroy and return the salt to the sea involves actively the audience in the artwork, making people meditate on life and death.
Why do you choose salt to express your art?
The reason why I use salt for my artwork is because it is essential to life and a sacred material that has profound connection with life and death. Life began in the primeval sea, and still today, we cannot live without salt. In its long history, human beings discovered that salt has a power to protect food from rotting. Because of its preservability and permanency, it has been playing an essential role in ceremonies relating to life and death as a symbol of life and death.
In Japan, after a funeral, participants put some salt on their body because it is believed that salt has a sacred power to cleanse impurity, clarify and purify the mind. Impurity means a state that is not ideal, unusual, or unstable. Thus, salt is believed to have a power to break out of situations where mind is not in peace. In the winter of 1994, my sister who was 24 years old passed away because of malignant brain tumor. I began creating my artwork so that I could accept and over come her death.
At that time, I chose themes relating to people’s death and created artwork using various materials. I tried different materials such as earth, wood, paper, glass with themes like terminal care, criterion of death, as well as heart sutra. In the fall of 1996, when I was working on an artwork about funerals, I came up with the idea to use salt. I made a salt bed, a deathbed, and exhibited it outdoors but a typhoon melted it and it dissolved back to earth during the exhibition. Salt looks white at first, but when you look at it closely, it’s a collection of transparent and clear cubes. Sparkling crystals reflecting light is really beautiful and its colors when it’s wet have an alluring beauty to it.
When I look at salt, I always think of the ancient times when this salt used to support someone else’s life, and that these salt crystals might contain the “memory of life” from the past.
Have you ever thought to replace it with something else?
For many years, I have been attached to salt very strongly. But even with those feelings, salt is merely a material. There is always a possibility that I might use some other materials for installations in the future. What I like to realize through my artwork is to re-encounter precious memories of people who passed away, and salt is merely a method to make that dream come true.
You need a lot of time to complete a salt opera, time that you spend sitting on the ground drawing. You need to concentrate and be extremely focused. How do you manage to keep that focus and what do you think about?
I always try to have my mind clear when I draw lines with salt. I define this state of empty and clear mind as a moment of only focusing on salt lines. My body directly connects to my mind, and my mind connects to salt lines. I make an effort to take care of my body.
If I am looking at an artwork and I find it amazing, even if the author order me to destroy it, I would not be able to do it. How do your audience react when you order them to destroy your opera?
Children in the United States dove right into the artwork, lied down, and swung their arms and legs. A man in Germany collected salt little by little by hand as if he was praying. A middle aged man in France created a big heart mark with the salt he collected. A young woman in Japan wrote THANK YOU in the salt. Many people participate in my Return to the Sea project with smiles and respect. Their smiles bring me joy to continue creating artwork, and remind me that we are connected even after the artwork is dissolved.
Interview by Alice Manieri
Courtesy of the Artist