Saturday, April 5, 2014

A meticulous, salty obsession.

Motoi Yamamoto at Westminster College
I’m a fan of earth art and have gone out of my way to see works located in some very remote areas.  But there are occasional works of art that capture the spirit of earth art but are much easier to see.  Motoi Yamamoto’s Return to the Sea: Saltworks is one such installation on view now at the Meldrum Science Center on the campus of Westminster College.  But you’ll have to hurry because the installation is only up through April 12 after which the whole thing will be swept up and taken to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and cast into the Great Salt Lake.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.  A little context is in order. Motoi Yamamoto’s medium of choice is salt. From massive constructions to intricate, maze-like illustrations his designs are mesmerizing works of simple sodium chloride; in fact Morton was a sponsor providing the 400 pounds of table salt needed for the installation.

Motoi Yamamoto during the installation of Return to the Sea.
I went to visit the exhibit during its creation.  It was almost a religious experience.  I was there over the weekend and the Meldrum Science Center was nearly empty with just a few students helping create the time-lapse video and overseeing an empty “public participation” space. Amidst that silence, Yamamoto padded about in stockinged feet and repositioned a mat on the floor.  Methodically he laid down an intriguing pattern that felt perfect even for its apparent randomness.

It's hard not to draw parallels to the art work of Yayoi Kusama, but that might be because I just finished reading Kusama’s autobiography, Infinity Net.  Both artists use meticulous repetition to create works that have an inherent Japanese attitude; an attitude that’s thoughtful and imbued with a deep, quiet emotion. And both artists’ work comes from very painful, emotional experiences.  For Yamamoto, that moment is the death of his sister at age 24 from brain cancer.
Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto (2014, salt)
The work is also spectacular for its use of line.  Yamamoto can draw a perfect line, in salt no less.  And he works quickly, faster than it appears from his quiet movement.  I spent a little over an hour watching him work and while it seemed like he was moving at a slow pace, he filled in a substantial portion of the design while I was there.  His lines are so fluid and precise, they reminded me of Keith Haring, another artist who was brilliantly adept at using precise, free-form drawing to create engaging art.

In the end, all of Yamamoto’s works are swept up and returned to the “sea.” In this case, the “sea” will be the Great Salt Lake at the site of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty.  This seems like the perfect location considering Smithson’s embrace of entropy and a desire to allow his works to change with the environment around them.  Yamamoto’s act of destroying each work is an even more dramatic embrace of the theoretical, ethereal side of art.

You can participate in the destruction of the work on Saturday, April 12.  Something I would be doing if it weren’t for a conflicting commitment.  Find more information here. Here are a few more photos from of Return to the Sea: Saltworks.

Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto

Motoi Yamamoto at work

Installation of Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto.

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