cathy pyle | An experiment with kintsugi, or the art of golden repair

An experiment with kintsugi, or the art of golden repair

June 06, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

I first came across the Japanese art of kintsugi a couple of years ago: translated as "golden repair", it's a centuries-old practice in which broken vessels are repaired with a gold lacquer, creating a golden seam along the line of the break. Rather than trying to disguise the damage, it is accentuated and celebrated as part of the object's history. I loved not just how beautiful the mended pieces were in themselves but also the idea that things may be even more beautiful for having been broken.  It seemed like a wonderful metaphor for our often throwaway society and for life, you know?

I was also inspired by these words I read by Sean O'Hagan, who wrote in the Guardian- "I think photographs should be intimate. And everyday.  And luminous.' - which I jotted down in my notebook to remind me of what I might hope to capture in my photos.

And so, when I was thinking about a creative project or two back in the spring, I decided I'd like to have a go at the kintsugi technique and then photograph the results, creating a series of simple, quiet, still life photographs. My aim was just to explore the process, without expectation of repairing the pieces with any skill, and also to look for beauty in the results, however imperfect. 

I approached a few ceramicists - some I know in real life, and some I've never met but have come to know as friends through the wonderful community of Instagram - to explain what I was planning to do and ask if they'd be happy to let me have a play with any of their broken or imperfect pieces. I was lucky enough that they responded with huge generosity of spirit and I had soon collected a box full of broken, cracked or otherwise imperfect pots, plates, vases and spoons.

Armed with a kintsugi set from the Design Shop - it comes with two types of glue that you mix, and a pot of beautiful gold dust - and slightly full of apprehension, I set to work one afternoon on the pieces I'd been given.  There was a lot of trial and error; there were messy pots, sticky fingers, and a table covered in gold dust. (I hadn't had so much fun in ages). Some I was really happy with; others less so, and others were such a mess I confess I couldn't find any beauty in the way I'd mended them! But by the end of the afternoon I'd amassed a small collection of pieces I was ready to photograph - and about which I'll be sharing more very soon.

Huge thanks are due to everyone who generously let me loose on their pots and pieces: Emily Mathieson of ethical homeware store Aerende, Elvis Robertson, Jo Rowley, Emma Alington, and Elisabeth Barry. Thanks too to those other lovely people who offered help but who didn't have any broken pieces to share! 


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