Forces of Nature Labyrith at College of Charleston's Addlestone Library - Detail by Stefan Worring.

Networks of Memory: Motoi Yamamoto’s Salt Sculptures

Japanese artist and sculptor Motoi Yamamoto makes incredible installations made entirely out of salt. These installations, which sometimes takes weeks to make, are site-specific, and inherently ephemeral. To underscore this fact, Yamamoto asks that at the end of the exhibits, the salt be returned to the ocean. This ashes-to-ashes act becomes a social event–almost a ceremony in its reverence–with visitors helping to scoop up the trash and toss it out to sea.

The intricate works of art, with their sinuous lines and variegated fractal patterns, trace a network of the artist’s memories, many of which recall his sister and her death. In an interview with NPR, Yamamoto describes the personal nature of his work:

Salt seems to possess a close relation with human life beyond time and space,” he writes in an email. “Moreover, especially in Japan, it is indispensable in the death culture.” Mourners in Japan are often sprinkled with salt after leaving a funeral in order to ward off evil.

The importance of salt in Japanese culture was also a bit more personal for Yamamoto. In 1994, his sister passed away at the age of 24 from brain cancer. In thinking about her and what he had lost, he began creating art that reflected his grief. His work takes the form of labyrinths and complex patterns, like cherry blossoms.

For more of Yamamoto’s work, visit and


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