In Kintsugi, the cracks are highlighted, even emphasized! This 400+ year-old traditional art form which originates back to the 15th century Japan, symbolizes renewal, reuse, and an enhanced appreciation for the value and beauty in imperfections. It honors the process and inevitability of transformation and change.
Kintsukori “golden repair” more commonly known as Kintsugi is also translated as “golden rejoinery”; it is an art form of repairing broken pottery with seams of gold, silver, platinum, or bronze. When did this art form begin? The most known answer dates to the late 15th century. As the story is told, Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who is known to have influenced the growth of the Higashiyama culture, broke a favorite tea bowl and sent it back to China for replacement. Since it was original there wasn’t another, therefore, it was sent back repaired with metal staples. This led to a more aesthetically appealing mending using urushi lacquer and gold, the Kintsugi process, that continues to inspire artists today.
There is an alchemy to gold, a beauty and luminosity, that is alluring. Gold takes on various forms, from solid to liquid to dust. Jim Hodges, explores the materiality of gold as a medium in and still this, 2005-2008 (pictured above). Hodges’ created an immersive gold chamber with ten life-size canvases covered with lace-like gold leaf. The spaces create patterns and a sense of absence and presence, resulting in a resonant feeling of spaciousness or emptiness as is found by many Buddhist practitioners. Cracks are the space where the light gets in, wrote Leonard Cohen in his poetical lyrics for his song Anthem. Hodges reveals the delicacy and fragility of gold leaf that are found in life and love. Hodges’ and still this, 2005-2008 was featured in “Give More Than You Take” (the exhibition title, and very good life advice, perhaps we can even say a golden rule).
Seoul-based artist Yeesookyung’s Translated Vases series references Korean and Japanese traditions. She has explained, that the usage of gold to mend the ceramic pieces together is related to the Korean language, for which the pronunciation of the word ‘gold’ and ‘crack’ sounds the same as “Geum.’ The process draws upon Kintsugi. Her finished sculptures highlight the beauty that comes from breakage and the sparkle that shines in the midst of ruins, with an inspiration for new beginnings.
Directing care towards the land, the environment, and ecosystem, artist Shohei Katayama traveled to the Arctic to mend a fractured glacier with emergency blankets. Katayama’s (in collaboration with Adam Kuby) Kintsukuroi / Golden Repair, alludes to climate change and the resulting melting of glaciers. Land is reshaped and altered by human interaction/exploitation through mining, logging, agriculture, development, and resource extraction. What we do to the land impacts and alters human life, there is a symbiotic relationship between social and environmental justice, and in healing and recuperation.
Taking it to the streets, artist Rachel Sussman’s Sidewalk Kintsukuroi series uses gold dust to patch both physical and photographed cracks in the marble floors of the Des Moines Art Center to the streets of Soho. For Sussman, the “repairs” will eventually be destroyed or deteriorated, leading to new repair creating a palimpsest of the transient, ephemeral nature of life and time.
Upping the game, Victor Solomon, beautified a deteriorated basketball court in South Los Angeles, titled “Kintsugi Court,” he says, the gilded installation is a metaphor, “to celebrate the sport of basketball as a universally accessible, class-agnostic, race-indifferent platform – and its ability to bring people together to heal in this important moment, my team and I renovated a dilapidated court in south los angeles, filing its cracks with gold dusted resin inspired by the historic process.” * & **
Softening the seams, UK artist Charlotte Bailey utilizes embroidered gold metallic thread rather than lacquer and gold dust to stitch together broken ceramic pieces covered in cloth to create her sculptural objects.
Similarly, following the thread, artist Susanne Slavick takes fabrics from antiquities that were torn and worn, then photographs and alters the image through photoshop, finishing by painting the ‘repair’ with gouache resulting in a remarkable transformation, as seen in Darn, 2013 and Patch, 2013.
In the same spirit of reassemblage, Bouke de Vries, documents the broken pieces in eight photographs alongside the display of the newly kintsugi reconstructed earthenware vessel, in Reconstructed Han Vase. In this work the passage of time, the transformation of the conservator’s work is in visible display. Repairing damage and erasing history is often an ethical question in museum conservation. “Notably, [in Grayson Perry’s Westfield Vase, 2009] de Vries used kintsugi in the reassemblage, commissioned by artist Grayson Perry, of a vessel that the latter smashed point blank in his go-to-conservator’s workshop. This vessel is Perry’s portrait of the publicly embattled British politician Chris Huhne.”***
Kader Attia uses (re)assemblage of broken ceramics to express the legacies of colonialism. In his Remembering the Future installation of multiple “kintsugi(ed)” ceramics, he bonds the broken pieces together with red lacquer, alluding to, and exposing the wounds/scars both externally and internally, in the flesh and the psyche left by our history of colonialism. Putting together the pieces is symbolic of hope for reparation, restitution, and the longing to transform/heal our world into what the better Future might become.
Kintsugi holds within it the wabi sabi philosophy. Wabi sabi encourages a deeper resonance/connection to the ebbs and flows and ever-changing transformations of life.
Taken individually, wabi and sabi hold distinct concepts: wabi is about recognizing beauty in humble simplicity, and sabi is related to the passage of time, the way all things naturally grow, age, and transform.
Kintsugi and the wabi sabi philosophy teach us that through the process of mending the broken parts we find something more beautiful. It teaches us to recognize the beauty in imperfection and accept the natural cycle of life.
“Perfectness” and perfection are subjective and conceptual. We might appreciate that imperfections hold beauty, we can trust and relate when people share or expose their vulnerabilities. We might have experienced times that made us feel vulnerable and/or broken. Broken hearts, war, broken relations, betrayals, broken dreams, failed businesses and/or careers –all are parts of a whole life. It is evident we each possess wounds and flaws, though it can be difficult to accept our own imperfections. It is through mending and repairing that we become stronger, and softer, at the same time. In essence we transform into more beautiful souls.
“…Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack, a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in …” Leonard Cohen, Anthem.
It is not about achieving perfection, it’s about how you face the challenges and disappointments that naturally manifest in a lifetime. It’s about how you respond to the inevitable realities of failure, loss, and disappointment. Can you flow with life?
Kintsugi becomes a positive metaphor for life. It represents mending ourselves and the world we live in. Like the seams of gold in the pottery, your life, as you age, naturally reforms, revises, revives, and glimmers.
Lidia Vives, “Kintsugi-19, 2020” speaks to the fissures that the last three years that covid have impacted upon the human body’s emotional and physical fragility, and the beauty and strength in the healing.
* Victor Solomon basketball court images courtesy of Shafik Kadi http://www.shifikworldwide.com & IG:@shafik
** quote from http://www.designboom.com/art/vitor-solomon-kintsugi-court