Artist Motoi Yamamoto (previously) creates meticulously sculpted installations from salt as a way of coping with the pain of having lost family members. His works typically take the form of labyrinth-like mazes but in a new installation that just opened at the Setouchi City Museum of Art, the artist has created more than a hundred thousand salt petals in the shape of cherry blossoms scattered on the floor.

The latest installation is titled さくらしべふる (Sakurashibefuru), which is a seasonal term of late spring, often used in haiku to describing the time when the flowering season is over and people have lose interest in the cherry blossoms.

Beginning in the center of the room and working outwards, Yamamoto spent hour after hour carefully sculpting individual cherry blossoms from salt. “By sitting on the floor and spending long hours drawing, perhaps I am trying to retain memories that fade with time,” says the artist.

Yamamoto lost his sister to a brain tumor. And several years later he lost his wife to breast cancer. “There is shock and sadness when something important that should still exist disappears from right in front of you.” We think of salt primarily as a cooking ingredient but in Japan it’s an element of the Shinto tradition that symbolizes purification. And it plays a fundamental role in rites surrounding death.

Sakurashibefuru is on display now through May 5, 2021 at the Setouchi City Museum of Art. At 4pm on the final day of the installation, visitors to the museum are invited to take part in one of the artist’s traditions in which the salt is carried out of the museum and returned to the sea.