Like a zen garden on amphetamines, a world of intricate mazes made from grains of salt blooms in the French castle of Aigues-Mortes. Alone, Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto worked in the castle tower for 45 hours to create two new saltworks, Labyrinth and Floating Garden. The works are part of a show called Univers’sel, which also features work by Jean Pierre Formica. Yamamoto enters a zen-like state to meticulously arrange each crystaline line. "I always hope to have my mind clear when I draw lines with salt," he tells The Creators Project. "I define this state of empty and clear mind as a moment I am focusing only on salt lines. My body directly connects to my mind, and my mind connects to salt lines."
Despite all this work, the salt remains loose, moveable—ruinable. If a visitor violates the unspoken rule, "Do not touch," Yamamoto won't restore it to it's original state. All of his salt artworks are tied up in ideas of permanence and impermanence. Salt is connected to the sea, where life originated, and the preservation of food. It is also used in many sacred rituals of the dead. "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," Yamamoto explains. "Salt is essential for life, has mysterious power to protect food from rotting, and is a sacred substance that can be collected from the ocean or from the earth. That is salt."
Yamamoto's works are pretty to look at, and you'll see them on viral inspiration sites across the web. Each and every one of them, however, is rooted in tragedy. "In the winter of 1994, my sister who was 24 years old passed away because of a malignant brain tumor. I began creating my artwork so that I could accept and over come her death," he reveals. He tried using many materials with connections to death: the earth, wood, of a buried casket, the glass and paper of a terminal care patient, and more. But after two years he tried salt, creating a white crystaline deathbed at an outdoor venue. In the midst of the exhibition, a typhoon melted it and it dissolved back to earth.
"Experiencing the death of my sister had taught me that there are certain things that we can never change or control in this world. I understand the life cycle of my work in basically the same way," Yamamoto says. His work is neither monument nor memorial, but evidence of the transience of all things. "My work exists to accept the loss; acceptance in order to overcome the sadness of loss. There is nothing that lasts forever in this world. Even the stars in the sky. We tend to forget that everything changes constantly, but my installation reminds us of the notion of constant change." Yamamoto suspects that salt crystals may preserve the memories of past lives. Connecting this spiritual preservation to the installations large in scale, yet delicate as a Tibetan sand mandala is as good a metaphor for life as we've ever seen.
See more of Motoi Yamamoto's work on his website. Univers’sel will be on display at Aigues-Mortes until November 30th.