Art Made Of Table Salt, Hundreds Of Hours In The Making

Motoi Yamamoto creates site-specific mandalas, which he later invites the public to help him destroy.

Motoi Yamamoto was 22 when he quit his job at a dockyard with plans to pursue art full time. Two years later, after his little sister succumbed to brain cancer, he began memorializing her through large-scale drawings, using an unlikely material that would become his signature: salt.


In Japan, salt is closely tied to funeral rituals and mourning. In traditional funerals, mourners will throw it behind them as they enter the service. Before a match, sumo wrestlers often purify the ring with handfuls of the stuff, too. For Yamamoto, who grew up by the ocean, it was a medium that reflected his grief, as well as the fleetingness of life.

After graduating with an MFA from Kanazawa College of Art, he continued working with salt, showing at dozens of museums and in a number of solo shows, though he is lesser known in the U.S. On September 8th, his first West Coast show will open at Loyola’s Laband Gallery.

Yamamoto’s art is as much in the dismantling as the creation of the work, much like mandalas. He spends hundreds of hours on each piece, carving organic patterns into vast mounds of sand on the gallery floor. Some are akin to drawings–wide, flat shapes filled with cell-like structures and Turing patterns. Other pieces are architectural, like Utsusemi, crumbling staircases of salt blocks. “Drawing a labyrinth with salt is like following a trace of my memory,” he says. And like memories, Yamamoto’s work changes and vanishes shortly after they’re made. At the end of each show, the artist sweeps away his mandalas and returns the salt to the sea. “What I look for at the end of the act of drawing could be a feeling of touching a precious memory.”

Yamamoto’s show at the Laband Gallery will open on September 8th. On August 29 – 31 and September 4-6, the gallery will host “open houses” from 12-4pm, when visitors can watch the artist as he recreates Return to the Sea[/i]. Then, on December 8th, he will invite the public to help him destroy the art and return it to the sea from which it came.

[H/t It’s Nice That]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.