Art

Into the Labyrinth

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto tells a story in salt.

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THE WORK OF Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto carries more weight than meets the eye.

His large-scale installations created with salt are an expression of loss, acceptance, and preservation. Born in Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, Yamamoto started using salt in his installations as a way of coping with death — both the passing of his sister in 1994 due to a brain tumor and, years later, the loss of his wife of 25 years due to breast cancer. His work became a catalyst for dealing with grief, as well as a vehicle for acknowledging those no longer with us.

“My creation is like a device that allows me to accept a loss. I came up with this solution after thinking about ways for me to accept the loss of a loved one,” he explains. Yamamoto’s installations are meticulous feats requiring extreme concentration. Each square foot of salt work requires about an hour to complete, which means large-scale projects can take days to complete.

With a finicky medium like salt, Yamamoto’s concentration and level of patience is an art form in itself. The work requires long hours of sitting on the floor, time that Yamamoto uses to focus not only on the art, but on his loved ones.

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“How can we not forget and what is the act of making memory useful for our lives and beneficial for our lives?” he asks. “Because if we just let go, we will forget. But why don’t we try to find a way to remember.”

This video, created especially for Departures, provides a glimpse into Yamamoto’s process as he works on his latest installation, “Labyrinth.”

Where to see Motoi Yamamoto’s upcoming shows and permanent works

  • Artist-in-residence and solo exhibition, Portland, Oregon

    The exhibition will be displayed at a Portland-based landscape design firm. As Yamamoto is an artist-in-residence, production will be open to the public.

    Dates: Early August 2022–September 30, 2022 (to be determined)

  • Permanent mural work, Hiroshima, Japan

    Yamamoto participated in the Wall Art Project and painted a huge mural on the Orizuru Tower, which stands next to the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima. The mural is on permanent display, at 24 meters wide by 4 meters high.

  • Oku-Noto Triennale 2023, Ishikawa, Japan

    This exhibit will be permanently preserved, but will also be on view to the public at the Triennial in 2023. It is Yamamoto’s largest work to date — using seven tons of salt. The host city, Suzu, is one of the most rural places in Japan. It is an area where many traditional Japanese landscapes and festivals still remain, and it takes about two hours by car from Kanazawa, where Yamamoto lives. It is convenient to fly from Tokyo to Noto Airport, which is near the venue.

  • Permanent works at TARU, New York

    Four of Yamamoto’s new works will be on permanent display at TARU, a Japanese restaurant opening in Manhattan in early May. They are a series of two-dimensional works using raised acrylic paints and depicting whirlpools, one of the artist’s signature motifs.

    Dates: Early May 2022

  • Solo exhibition, Takehara, Japan

    This fall, Motoi will hold a solo exhibition in a traditional Japanese mansion, an important cultural property, in Takehara City, Hiroshima Prefecture, facing the Seto Inland Sea. Takehara was once a prosperous town in the salt manufacturing industry, and the townscape of wooden houses from that time still remains. Takehara City is about 1.5 hours from Hiroshima by local train.

    Dates: November 2022–March 2023 (details to be determined)

  • Artist-in-residence and solo exhibition, Portland, Oregon

    The exhibition will be displayed at a Portland-based landscape design firm. As Yamamoto is an artist-in-residence, production will be open to the public.

    Dates: Early August 2022–September 30, 2022 (to be determined)

  • Permanent works at TARU, New York

    Four of Yamamoto’s new works will be on permanent display at TARU, a Japanese restaurant opening in Manhattan in early May. They are a series of two-dimensional works using raised acrylic paints and depicting whirlpools, one of the artist’s signature motifs.

    Dates: Early May 2022

  • Permanent mural work, Hiroshima, Japan

    Yamamoto participated in the Wall Art Project and painted a huge mural on the Orizuru Tower, which stands next to the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima. The mural is on permanent display, at 24 meters wide by 4 meters high.

  • Solo exhibition, Takehara, Japan

    This fall, Motoi will hold a solo exhibition in a traditional Japanese mansion, an important cultural property, in Takehara City, Hiroshima Prefecture, facing the Seto Inland Sea. Takehara was once a prosperous town in the salt manufacturing industry, and the townscape of wooden houses from that time still remains. Takehara City is about 1.5 hours from Hiroshima by local train.

    Dates: November 2022–March 2023 (details to be determined)

  • Oku-Noto Triennale 2023, Ishikawa, Japan

    This exhibit will be permanently preserved, but will also be on view to the public at the Triennial in 2023. It is Yamamoto’s largest work to date — using seven tons of salt. The host city, Suzu, is one of the most rural places in Japan. It is an area where many traditional Japanese landscapes and festivals still remain, and it takes about two hours by car from Kanazawa, where Yamamoto lives. It is convenient to fly from Tokyo to Noto Airport, which is near the venue.

Our Contributors

Elissa Polls Writer

Elissa Polls is the senior director of content production for Departures. A producer who typically stays behind the scenes, she has worked with creatives from around the world, helping bring their ideas to life. Elissa has over 15 years of production experience and lives in Berkeley, California.

Ian Alexander Levine Director/Editor

Ian Alexander Levine is an Oakland-based filmmaker originally from Vermont, where he was raised off-the-grid by nature-loving artists on a homestead with goats, bees, and a windmill. He got his start in music recording and production at Full Sail University before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he launched his career in film. Levine’s keen sense of rhythm, awe of nature, and insatiable desire to reveal the true spirit of any given story guide his creative sensibilities as a director and editor.

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