If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? That old question implies that one wouldn't occur without the other, and grants the listener a role of importance in the process. Ephemeral art is defined as "lasting only a short time," and like that proverbial tree, depends on the viewer to be seen. A well-known example of ephemeral art is the Tibetan sand mandalas. In Saltworks: Return to the Sea, Motoi Yamamoto doesn't mind the impermanence of his work and says it's the process that matters.
The process of creating the salt installations is healing for Yamamoto who lost his sister to brain cancer at the age of 24. His designs began as way to deal with her death and have continued as a way to preserve her memory. Time consuming and physically painful, his method of "drawing" the salt onto the floor with a plastic squeeze bottle is tightly controlled. The contrast between the constrained design process and the eventual destruction is a metaphor of life and death. It's also poignant that the artist's memories are preserved through making art that doesn't last. Observing the finished pattern suggests that the artist is celebrating beauty and accepting that it will not last at the same time.
A viewing platform built by Clemson Architecture Center professor David Pastre and his students allows a unique vantage point that is similar to standing on a dock above the water. If you sit down, you have a 180-degree view of the design through the glass walls and on a quiet afternoon, the experience was calming. A low rope around the edges of the installation seems paltry, and one can imagine the slip of a foot, damaging the design. The design swirls through the main floors of the gallery like a hurricane and the intricate lace-like lines, reminiscent of the physical pattern of the human brains, are delicate and alive. Yamamoto says these are the tightest knots he's ever made. Drawings, paintings, sketchbooks, and a 150-page color catalog are includes in the show. Videos are shown in the two different locations. Also included is a hands-on table with salt and a squeeze dispenser so you can experience the challenge of creating a straight line of salt. Not easy.
After the time and attention of making that straight line, it's freeing to let go of control, and Saltworks viewers will be able to participate in the letting-go ceremony at the conclusion of the exhibit on July 7. Viewer participation is encouraged by the Halsey staff who once again have offered an extraordinary exhibit for Spoleto.
On view through July 7. Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. 161 Calhoun St. Public dismantling: Sat. July 7, 4 p.m. Begins at Halsey, ends at Aquarium Wharf on Concord Street. (843) 953-4422.