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'Broken is better than new'
June 21, 2012 7:28 AM   Subscribe

'Often, we try to repair broken things in such a way as to conceal the repair and make it “good as new.” But the alternative “better than new” aesthetic—that a conspicuous, artful repair actually adds value' - on kintsugi, the art of beautiful repair.

Broken is Better than New shows the work of Lotte Dekker(video). Here is another introductory video, 'When Mending Becomes An Art'

The Aesthetics of Mended Japaense Ceramics, is an in-depth PDF, in which 'mending gave the bowl new life.'

In 2009, the Washington Post covered an exhibit at the Freer gallery entitled 'Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics'.

A kintsugi studio.
A gallery of repaired ceramics.
posted by the man of twists and turns (30 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's like the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, isn't it?

There's an understanding that things which aren't perfect, but still aim at perfection, are the most beautiful of things.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:35 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


These are things that deliberately do not aim at (former) perfection.
posted by DU at 8:01 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is so much wisdom integrated into this philosophy. It's too bad that most modern aesthetics aren't as indicative of such perspective.
posted by madred at 8:04 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


> the man of twists and turns: It's like the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, isn't it?

For the rest of my life, whenever I hear (er...read) wabi-sabi, I will think of "King of the Hill".
posted by aganders3 at 8:07 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be honest, to me not many of these things look better than new. Maybe not any - I'd prefer the unbroken versions. But that's not the point of kintsugi.

Kintsugi holds that, given that ceramics break, a prominent, unabashed repair is better than a less-than-perfect attempt to repair invisibly. This is true particularly when the object has a history and value in terms of association with particular people and events, as one of the essays at the PDF link mentions. In the west, if a punchbowl that belonged to George Washington or George III were broken, chances are an art conservationist would do a virtually undetectable repair job. But in the kintsugi tradition, the breakage and the repair become part of the history of the object, not something to disguise and forget.

There are parallels in woodworking — for example the prominent dovetail keys used in furniture by George Nakashima and others to hold together natural cracks in wood. This kind of repair has also been used in the restoration of early western furniture with serious cracks.
posted by beagle at 8:09 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've removed the worthless DVD drives from several old Mac Books when repairing them, major improvement.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:12 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Relatedly, Visible Mending.

Also relatedly, there is a type of Japanese embroidery called sashiko that seems to have developed for mending purposes and has evolved into a decorative art.
posted by clavicle at 8:14 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I repaired a cracked particle board bedframe by putting flat steel bars on each side of the cracked panel and bolting them together. It looked beautiful to me because I knew the repair was so strong that it would never break there again.
posted by scose at 8:43 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like a repair that's obvious and overbuilt, a repair that fixes some inherent design flaw by throwing big chunks of steel and epoxy and bolts and things at it, that encases a problem and makes an object better than it was when it was new. A repair that says "well, that's the end of that." Executing such a repair, or seeing one, gives a feeling of satisfying finality, of closure, the feeling that a problem has been definitively solved.

On preview: exactly the sort of thing that scose describes just above.
posted by Scientist at 8:49 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


twoleftfeet: "It's like the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, isn't it?

There's an understanding that things which aren't perfect, but still aim at perfection, are the most beautiful of things.
"

This is very interesting - I don't know if I have run into this term before, but it does seem to describe quite clearly my impression of the Japanese Aesthetic. My question, however is this: Is this aesthetic truly the Japanese Aesthetic, or is it merely the 20th Century Post-War Japanese Aesthetic
posted by rebent at 8:55 AM on June 21, 2012


scose: " It looked beautiful to me because I knew the repair was so strong that it would never break there again."

My house has a couple joists that cracked at the notch for a basement window lintel. I sandwiched the joists between new 2x12s, drew the shape of the cracks, and the engineering calculations right on the sistered joists. Kind of a "fuck you, math wins!" sort of thing.
posted by notsnot at 9:22 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Past Imperfect, Inventive Repairs.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:23 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


These are things that deliberately do not aim at (former) perfection.

It is a re-evaluation of our notion of perfection and beauty. Those expansion joints in your concrete patio or driveway break up the slab into nice neat squares so that the concrete doesn't crack randomly and look ugly. But random cracks are a much higher order of beauty--more elegant and natural than our well-intentioned notions of symmetry. It's like a mind flip, and once you get it, you'll never go back. Years ago I made a large earthenware bowl that cracked in several places when it filled with water and froze during the winter. I keep it at the entrance to my house, filled with interesting stones and driftwood. I fit the driftwood pieces through the cracks in the sides of the bowl, and it looks much more beautiful than it did when whole. We need to see the whole world like this--not just things. We need to see other people, other cultures, other creatures, and our universe in this way. It is a more perfect view.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:56 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


What about inartful repair?
posted by mazola at 9:57 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or maybe it's like the Japanese concept of bakku-shan; the girl who looks pretty from behind but not from the front.

Westerners learn this word, and it seems like a useful term, because we know what it's like to think "damn! She looked so hot when I was walking behind her, but then she turned around and I saw her face, and whoa... Ugly Town!"

That's the way we think. But I'm pretty sure it's more subtle than that. Nothing real is ever perfectly symmetric or perfectly regular or completely new or completely perfect, because, if for no other reason, when we observe these things, we bring our own imperfections into the observation. It takes a more refined aesthetic sensibility to acknowledge this, and to move on to an appreciation of beauty that doesn't depend on seeing something from just one point of view.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:12 AM on June 21, 2012


If you like this sort of thing, and I do to an absurd degree, google "dutchman repair." The term covers artful patches in furniture, boatbuilding, and masonry — including headstones and monuments.

Here's an image search for the term.
posted by Glomar response at 10:30 AM on June 21, 2012


My friend repaired some pairs of trousers with these very obvious but kinda cool stitch patterns. First was put off but now I think it really adds something. I'm now into remade stuff.
posted by yoHighness at 10:47 AM on June 21, 2012


Lego bricks have been used to repair walls in Amsterdam and Italy.
posted by carmicha at 11:04 AM on June 21, 2012


The Large Glass.
posted by R. Mutt at 11:04 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


mazola: "What about inartful repair?"

There's a whole website full of that sort of stuff
posted by exogenous at 11:35 AM on June 21, 2012


This is the kind of thing I love, though not crazy about Dekker's take on it. It's opposite to the dominant view of buy -> consume -> throw it out when it breaks or is empty, which seems so ignorant and/or soulless.
posted by Listener at 11:51 AM on June 21, 2012


This clip from Zhang Yimou's "The Road Home", from about 2 minutes in, contains closeup shots of a porcelain bowl being mended with nails. It's my favorite moment in the movie.
posted by of strange foe at 1:20 PM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


The past imperfect link is worth a look. I wonder how the heck they hammer rivets into glass?!?
posted by Listener at 1:35 PM on June 21, 2012


I don't think the rivets are in the glass - rather, there would have been two thin sheets of the metal, overlapping the break or hole, and riveted together outside the glass.

That glass is really striking though.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:14 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


twoleftfeet: "Or maybe it's like the Japanese concept of bakku-shan; the girl who looks pretty from behind but not from the front.

Westerners learn this word, and it seems like a useful term,
"

There's an American term for that as well ("butterface", as in everything's good but 'er face), but since these are misogynist, hateful terms ("a woman's beauty = her value" is the implication), I wouldn't say this is related in any way, shape, or form to the idea of loving a beautiful repair.

Instead, I prefer to relate it to facial scars received through just about any event except a violent past. Instead of looking at them as disfigurement, I hold them to be a brave story of endurance and experience.

Or, in other words, "Pain ends; glory lasts a lifetime; chicks dig scars." And so do I (as long as they aren't records of one's hateful past).
posted by IAmBroom at 2:30 PM on June 21, 2012


scose: "I repaired a cracked particle board bedframe by putting flat steel bars on each side of the cracked panel and bolting them together. It looked beautiful to me because I knew the repair was so strong that it would never break there again."

Sort of the "un-duct-tape" aesthetic... a fix that actually will stay fixed.

As someone who's renovated an old house, part of me reviles the fad of pretending that duct tape fixes.... well, anything at all. There's almost nothing it can do that won't break again soon; instead, turn to epoxy, filler, clamps, welds, or structural reinforcements as you have done.

So: yeah, I get it, too!
posted by IAmBroom at 2:36 PM on June 21, 2012


It's kind of interesting to see this lauded as a Japanese 'thing' when for the most part, modern Japanese culture makes nearly everything disposable. The cost of repair for nearly every consumer product tends to be more than just buying a new one, whether it's a dvd player, a tv, or even larger. Cars are subject to regular inspections (shaken) that rise in cost throughout the life of the car, so that by four or five years, many people just sell the old car and get a new one. Houses, too, are for the most part disposable. It's standard practice to buy a new house, then after twenty or thirty years, tear it down and build a new one. Used houses, when sold, are really just being bought for the land, and the structure is torn down.

For the most part, preventative maintainance is a foreign concept, and friends and coworkers express shock that I'm willing to do minor repairs and improvements on my own. Yet there is this concept of painstaking repairs. Odd.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:33 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


As someone who is not Japanese, has never been to Japan, and so understands Japan and Japanese culture through the media of the internet, anime, and Heian era diaries, I sometime think there are two, more or less parallel Japans, traditional and modern, that co-exist in a sort of theoretical way, like two images overlapping one another.

(Although, I do recall reading a young Japanese woman's blog, where she described how her boyfriend rarely buys new clothes, instead making minute and careful repairs to the things he owns.)
posted by Kaleidoscope at 6:19 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The issues touched on here are akin to a historical shift seen in fresco (and other artwork) restoration policy that I found subtly engrossing: from imitative/invisible retouching of lacunae, to explicit (yet meticulously curated) re-integration, not immediately apparent from enough of a distance, yet unmistakably noticeable (and even data-rich) at closer inspection. The implications in terms of historical truthiness (and politics of artwork perception) are quite fascinating. (I'll try to find some links.)
posted by progosk at 12:31 AM on June 22, 2012


I don't know if sugru do a gold coloured option, but you can make a sugru hack as obvious (or subtle) as you want.
posted by asok at 5:20 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


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