On Kintsugi

September 27th, 2017:

Repair requires transformation, and this can take many forms. This little nugget has resurfaced in my mind recently and seems topical in juxtaposition to the many broken things around us today.

Chances are that if you come from a design or arts background you may have come across the Japanese term "Wabi-Sabi." This philosophical approach to aesthetics evolved from the reflection of the Buddhist beliefs in the acceptance of transience and imperfection. At its essence, wabi-sabi is the ascension of incompleteness and imperfection as attributes that carry beauty. This can manifest as the slight irregularities of a wooden table or the broken symmetry of a teacup and can extend to the wear and tear imparted to beloved objects. The damage that life has imparted and the scars left behind can be the thing that spurs attention to the beauty of that object.

Out of this philosophy emerged the art form of "Kintsugi." At its origin, this "golden joinery" was a technique that used a mix of flour paste, lacquer, and gold dust to repair broken ceramics. It was a laborious reconstruction meant to draw appreciation to the repair as an act of reverence and virtue. The artisan calling attention to the damage and the repair imparts a recognition of the irrefutable change that has transpired and imbues the object with more interest. We can recognize that this idea of transformation through repair can be an inspiring thought and it has influence artisans of all types and throughout our modern history, from pottery to songs and everywhere in between.

As a study on this subject, I wanted to create a modern Kintsugi piece in order to have a reminder of the transformative effects of repair. Follow me through my process below and I would love to hear your thoughts on Kintsugi or Wabi-Sabi and see some of your transformed objects.

-Omar Bermudez, Senior Industrial Designer

 

Phase 1. Destruction

As this is my first time attempting this art form, I started with an inexpensive cup. My plan was to use a two-part epoxy combined with a food grade fine gold additive to mimic the Kintsugi effect. I wrapped the cup in two plastic bags, whacked it with a hammer, and then combed through the wreckage.

 

Phase 2.  Reassembly

I mixed the two-part epoxy in small batches, adding the gold powder and working the material thoroughly. As I combined the pieces, I used painters tape to keep the fragments together while the epoxy cured.

Tip: I found it useful to sharpen a wooden stirring stick to manipulate the epoxy into the nooks and crannies of the porcelain cracks.

 

Phase 3. Finalization and Reflection

Before the epoxy fully cured, I used acetone to clean up any of the smudges and drips I could find. The next day, I inspected the new cup. Overall, this was an interesting experience and a decent practice attempt; and there is plenty of room for improvement. The gold “look” can improve, and I now understand why the real method uses lacquer and superfine, authentic gold powder; mine looks more like fine gold glitter.  But I will appreciate the result and the experience for its imperfection and what it has taught me… or at least I will try. I hope this encourages you to look into the Wabi-Sabi philosophy and Kintsugi artform and possibly inspires you to create your own piece.