Kintsugi (金継ぎ?) (Japanese: golden joinery) or Kintsukuroi (金繕い?) (Japanese: golden repair) is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer resin dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy it speaks to breakage and repair becoming part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.
Lacquerware is a longstanding tradition in Japan, at some point it must have been combined with maki-e as a replacement for other ceramic repair techniques, a theory is that kintsugi may have originated when shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repairs in the late 15th century. When it was returned repaired with ugly metal staples, it may have prompted Japanese craftsmen to look for a more aesthetic means of repair. Collectors became so enamored of the new art that some were accused of deliberately smashing valuable pottery so it could be repaired with the gold seams of kintsugi. Kintsugi became closely associated with ceramic vessels used for Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu). While the process is associated with Japanese craftsmen the technique was applied to ceramic pieces of other origins including China, Vietnam, Korea.
As a philosophy kintsugi can been seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the the flawed or imperfect. Japanese æsthetics values marks of wear by the use of an object over time, this can be seen both as a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken, and as a justification of kintsugi itself, highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage.
|“||Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated... a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin....Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. ...The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identiﬁcation with, [things] outside oneself.||”|
—Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics
Types of kintsugi joinery
There are a few major styles or types of Kintsugi, Crack (ひび?), the use of gold dust and resin or lacquer to attach broken pieces with minimal overlap or fill-in from missing pieces. Piece Method (欠けの金継ぎ例?) where a replacement ceramic fragment is not available and the entirety of the addition is gold or gold/lacquer compound. Joint Call (呼び継ぎ?) a method where a similarly shaped but non-matching fragment is used to replace a missing piece from the original vessel creating a patchwork effect.
Staple repair is a similar technique used to repair broken ceramic pieces, where small holes are drilled on either side of a crack and metal staples are bent to hold the pieces together. Staple repair was use in China, England, and Russia as a repair technique for particularly valuable pieces.
Influence on modern art
Kintsugi as a general concept of highlighting or emphasizing imperfections, visualizing mends and seams as additive or an area to celebrate of focus on rather than as absence or missing pieces, the artist project dispatchwork by Jan Vormann can be seen as a modern take on Kintsugi. Other modern artists experiment with the ancient technique as a means of analyzing the idea of loss, synthesis, and improvement through destruction and repair or rebirth.
While originally ignored as a separate art form Kintsugi and related repair methods have been featured at exhibition at the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Gopnik, Blake (March 3, 2009), "At Freer, Aesthetic Is Simply Smashing", The Washington Post.
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- Taylor, Andrew (February 27, 2011). "Smashing idea to put it together again". Sydney Morning Herald.
- Flickwerk The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics — Christy, James; Holland, Henry; Bartlett, Charly Iten (2008). Flickwerk The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics. Cornell University, Herbert Johnson Museum of Art. ASIN B009F3YENM.
- Kintsugi: The Meaning of Mending by Adam Fulford (Video on Vimeo)