Motoi Yamamoto has been skimming the Atrium floor at Mint Museum Uptown. His is a quiet project, almost monastic, but through March 1, anyone can watch him at work during museum hours.
Yamamoto is in Charlotte creating Floating Garden, a temporary work made out of salt. In 1994, grief-stricken over the death of his sister from brain cancer, the internationally exhibited artist abandoned painting and began making floor installations of salt a material rife with meaning in his native Japan, a substance at the heart of both mourning and cleansing.
I believe salt has the force to heal a grief, he says.
Floating Garden takes the form of a huge, churning spiral. When viewed from one of the Mints upper levels, it looks like a weather radar image of a hurricane. Up close, it looks lacey or cellular, and evokes associations with marshes or deltas places where soil and water meet and the land is unstable and shifting. For Yamamoto, whos 47, it represents a way to reverse time.
Floating Garden will remain on view through March 2, and on March 3, anyone can help Yamamoto take it apart and return the salt to the sea.
Contemplation and action
Curator of Contemporary Art Brad Thomas says the work is made from just salt and gravity.
No binders hold the crystals together. And there is no technology involved. It is simply the artist, his medium, and a few tools. Yamamoto dispenses the salt from a bottle typically used for oiling machinery. There is very little to guide him as he works: Grids on the floor are marked with little torn-off pieces of masking tape, and the diagram Yamamoto consults looks more like a fine-art drawing than a technical reference.
Yamamotos process blends contemplation and decisive action. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he gazes at his work and then, in a quiet burst of activity, creates a small intricate pattern. He often walks away to consider the work from a distance, sometimes taking the escalator to the second-floor to get an aerial view. The process may look strange to an outsider, but it is familiar to anyone who has struggled to address a complex idea within the confines of a single work of art.
Viewing the creation of Floating Garden offers museum visitors a break from their busy lives and the chance to just be. And because even non-members can view it from the atrium level free of charge, people can return again and again to watch the work in progress.
I can concentrate more when Im alone, but sharing the process is important, Yamamoto says through a translator. When I started working in salt, I couldnt share my process, because it was so close to the death of my sister. But as time goes by, I can share it now.
What is it?
Last weekend, eight-year-old Lucy Dunn and her mother, April Dunn, came upon Yamamoto when he was working on Return to the Sea, the fourth-floor gallery exhibition that will remain after Floating Garden is gone.
We were here all day Saturday, from the time he started until they closed the museum, says Lucy.
She wrote poetry while he worked, then returned on Sunday, giving him a poem as a gift. When the Dunns came back on Monday to watch the beginning of the atrium installation, Yamamoto gave Lucy postcards of his work in a signed slipcase.
On March 3, Floating Garden will be dismantled at a public ceremony. Museum visitors will receive special containers to collect the salt, which they can return to the sea at a time and place of their own choosing. Participants are invited to document their experiences and upload their images to motoi.biz and facebook.com/mintmuseum.
This has so many associations, says Thomas, the curator. Is it drawing? Is it sculpture? Is it installation? Is it performance? Its all of those things.