If you’re familiar with kintsugi, you’ll know how it finds beauty in the broken. Yeesookyung’s kintsugi sculptures, however, try to turn broken chaos into a sense of ceramic order.
Blending ornately patterned vessels with deities and animals, the delicate assemblages meld shards of discarded ceramic into new forms with bulbous sides, halved figures, and drips of metallic epoxy. Utilizing fragments from previous works references the Korean tradition of discarding porcelain with small irregularities, while the visibly repaired crevices draw on Kintsugi techniques, the Japanese art of highlighting the beauty of broken vessels with thick, gold mendings.
Alex (full name Alexis Gabriel Aïnouz) is a French “Self-taught Homecook / Self-taught Filmmaker” and he managed to find a way to make a foodsafe kintsugi hack. The video starts in September 2017 in Alex’s studio with a small bowl which he drops and, naturally, it broke. He then discusses how much he loved it and goes through his kitchen, showing all the other broken utensils he had patched up.
So, rather than send his favourite blue and white bowl to ceramic heaven, he took it to Mizuyo Yamashita, a London-based ceramic artist who specialised in kintsugi. But it’s not only Japanese artforms she uses:
I work now mostly on the potter’s wheel and apply surface decorating techniques that stem from Japanese and Korean traditions such as shinogi, mishima and kohiki or carve the clay surface using Japanese chisels for wood-printing.
I love kintsugi, visually and philosophically. It’s a beautiful technique that teaches so much about life and the objects in our lives. Minimalism is portrayed as an antithesis of our post-postmodern maximalist world. But a lot of it does the opposite with nothing more than licks of white paint and expensive items – even if there aren’t many of them.
Kintsugi offers a chance to repair something beloved; that holds a value in our lives – and gives it a new golden life. Sure, Alex’s “hack” cuts the time down and might remove that time of contemplation but you still have a beautiful bowl that brings you joy. Marie Kondo would approve.
The concept extends beyond pottery or objects and speaks to our humanity. We go through life feeling happiness and sorrow but dwell on the bad times more than the good. Metaphorical cracks form and we break from time to time. But do the pieces have to stay broken or can they be “glued” back together with a stronger more radiant bond?
The literal translation of kintsugi (or kintsukuroi meaning “golden repair”) is “golden joinery”. The art form involves repairing broken pottery with lacquer combined with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. A theory of its original derives from Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa who sent a broken Chinese tea bowl back to China for repairs in the 15th century. It came back with metal staples holding the pieces together. Japanese craftsmen sought improved ways of repair and kintsugi was later born. Lacquer repair had been an age-old tradition in Japan but the idea of adding luxuriant colours came from the brutal stapling.
Kintsugi is very much a Japanese tradition but it has found its way into Western art. The Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art have held exhibitions for the golden repair. Rock bands “Hey Rosetta!”, “The Rural Alberta Advantage”, and “Death Cab for Cutie” have used kintsugi and its ideal for song titles and album inspiration. The cover for Cathy Rentzenbrink’s A Manual for Heartache also has a similar style, with a golden jigsaw outline on an eggshell green background, perhaps a more British variant on the concept. But its influence lies heavy in philosophy. It shares similarities with the Japanese philosophies of wabi-sabi and “no mind” (無心mushin), which “encompasses the concepts of non-attachment, acceptance of change and fate as aspects of human life”.
Rather than disguise the “scars”, kintsugi treats the cracks as historical signposts, showing a followed path and a beautiful destination in shimmering gold.