Kintsugi is the Japanese term meaning ‘to patch with gold’. It is widely used to refer to the craft or practice by which chipped, broken or cracked ceramics are repaired using lacquer and either rice glue or flour glue. I only use traditional lacquer in my work and do not use modern epoxy glue to repair.
There is a strong and potent philosophy attached to the practice of Kintsugi. There are similiarities to the Japanese philosophy of ‘wabi-sabi’ which seeks to embrace the flawed or imperfect. There is value in the marks of wear and tear, of a life well lived. The practice of Kintsugi can be justified through the highlighting of cracks and breakages. It is simply an event in the life of an object which is then valued and enhanced through its loving repair rather than being discarded or thrown away.
Kintsugi dates back to the 15th/16th Century to the time of the great tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591). The most famous legend runs as follows – a famous military ruler ‘Toyotomi Hideyoshi, had a much loved Korean style tea bowl. One day one of his retinue dropped the bowl and it broke into 5 pieces. Everybody froze, fearing immediate retribution. A quick witted poet quickly composed a 5 line poem, good humour was restored, the bowl was repaired and then the object (the bowl) took on a life of its own from the day of its rebirth.
“Furthermore the bowl stood as talismanic proof that imagination and language had the power to make ill fortune good. Instead of the altered physical appearance of the bowl diminishing its appeal, a new sense of its vitality and resilience raised appreciation to even greater heights. Immaterial factors assumed a material presence through the lines of its mending and became an inextricable part of the bowl’s appeal.”
Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: ‘The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics’
There are also links to the Japanese philosophy of ‘mushin’ often translated as ‘no mind’ which comes from Zen Buddhism. ‘Mushin’ can be seen as an acceptance of change and fate as aspects of human life and is part of the concepts of non-acceptance.
That moment in time when something has been shattered, is permanently captured by the painstaking labours of a craftsman in building up the layers of lacquer to repair a piece. It is this reference to the ’now’ that recalls mushin, a lack of attachment to anything, but rather being present in the moment, something constantly available to all, but particularly so when we drop a favourite plate or bowl.
“[With Kintsugi] 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