Motoi Yamamoto makes elaborate installations using a very nontraditional contemporary art material, table salt. For the latest installment of The Avant/Garde Diaries, the Japanese artist traveled to the salt flats of western Utah to discuss life, death, rebirth, and art.

Reminiscent of Tibetan salt mandalas, Yamamoto’s work often stretches across the gallery floor — or any space he uses — to create elaborate patterns. Sometimes his byzantine forms evoke visual labyrinths, while other times they can resemble the metrological patterns of typhoons or hurricanes. But the root of Yamamoto’s work lies in something much more personal, the death of his sister in 1996.

When his sister passed away from brain cancer, Yamamoto abandoned traditional painting and channeled his creative energy into something new, salt, which is a funerary material in Japanese culture, a natural choice.

Salt in the artist’s hands evokes the temporality of life while marking the passage of time. The Avant/Garde Diaries filmed the artist during a recent trip to the ancient salt flats outside of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.