The craft of Kintsugi

In the next edition of The Journal of Modern Craft (9.1), Guy Keulemans provides a succint overview of the history and practice of the Japanese craft kintsugi, the art of repairing broken ceramics with urushi laquer and gold or silver. Alongside a thorough investigation of the craft’s relationship to Japanese culture, Keulemans provides some examples from contemporary art and design practice which foreground the idea of ‘transformative repair’ that is inherent to kintsugi-craft.

As a sort of teaser to Keulemans’ article, I wanted to draw the reader’s attention to the work of Japanese artist Aono Fumiaki currently on show at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition 2016 in London.

Aono Kumiaki, Mending, Restoration: Restoration of of Cassette Tapes Collected in Yuriage, Miyagi, Japan, After The Great East Japan Eartquake and Tsunami, 2012-13.

In a series of sculptures, Fumiaki brings together broken objects picked up in the Yuriage and Miyagi region of Japan, after the devastating 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake that led to the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The found objects Fumiaki has collected as the foundation of his work include a corner of a tape cassette or VCR, a modest tile, a scrap of a school exercise book, and piles damaged books. But he does not simply draw the viewer’s attention to these provocative objects by presenting them in the mode of Marcel Duchamp’s unassisted readymades. Instead, the damaged object is mounted on wood and is ‘restored’ by merging the fragment with a replica of its lost whole, carved from wood and then painted. The final object can be considered an example of ‘transformative repair,’ but unlike kintsugi that celebrates the moment of destruction, Fukiami’s small scupltures are haunting, the replica stretching the original form of the found object, with the initially detailed reconstruction by the join between original and copy fading to wooden whiteness (see above).

Fumiaki’s salvage operation brings to mind Ai WeiWei’s monumental Straight (2008-12) that was exhibited in the Royal Academy’s main galleries just six months ago: construction steels that were picked up by Ai from buildings (including schools) that fell in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and then straightened in a provocative and moving gesture of memorialisation to the many school children’s lives that were lost.

In these instances, and in the widespread practice of kintsugi, we see how embroilment with material damage and repair can provide a palpable sense of healing to the trauma of natural and human disasters to which many populations are subject.

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