Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto is well-known for his awe-inspiring works of art in which he uses salt to sculpt labyrinthine patterns. Drawn to the crystalline substance for its beautiful, translucent qualities, he returns to the mineral, again and again, to build his ephemeral installations that are both monumental yet also quite unstable due to the fragility of the medium. For his most recent installation, titled A Path of Memories, Yamamoto took his practice to new heights when he transformed the halls of a Japanese nursery school using almost seven tons of salt to complete his masterpiece.
On display from September 4 to November 5, 2021, as part of the Oku-Notu Triennale 2020+, Yamamoto’s large-scale project took several months to complete. With the help of many volunteers, the artist painted the walls, floor, and ceiling of the building (which served as his three-dimensional canvas) a deep sky blue and covered that backdrop with an intricate labyrinth of twisting white lines. For the artist, this process was the most challenging as it took painstaking patience and care to execute the elaborate details with precision.
“I have made many works over a long period of time,” Yamamoto tells My Modern Met. “It's like climbing a mountain, and this is a standard process for me. However, this time the mountain was so high that I felt a great sense of accomplishment…I realized after I started painting that it required much more patience and advanced techniques than I had anticipated. I have a newfound respect for Michelangelo's greatness as he faced the ceiling painting of the vast chapel.”
Twisting like vines of ivy as they snake along the walls, these painted lines guide the viewer to the end of a long hallway. There stands a door that opens up onto a magnificent salt garden where a grand salt staircase raises itself to the sky. The piles of salt that cover the floor are raked into orderly patterns resembling the raked sand of a peaceful zen garden. Standing transformed, the empty halls of the former nursery school have now become a receptacle for new life and experiences.
“This work is a grand attempt to contain memories,” the artist explains. “I wanted to create a time machine that would allow visitors to recall the laughter and warmth of the eyes that once filled this place.”