Art often seeps from the gaskets of culture imperceptibly as fluids from an engine. Not until we note the surface-level slick they’ve left do we remark to ourselves, “So that’s what flows around in there!”
These pieces are assembled from the discarded shards of Korean-style ceramics. “She acquires her ‘ceramic trash’ directly from an elderly Korean master potter, who intentionally breaks and discards vessels that he feels are imperfect.” [per the museum label at the Smart Museum of Art]
She says of her work:
…what I am trying to do is literally ‘translating’ the … pieces of broken vases and mending their ‘wounds’… The crack, which symbolizes the wound, is emphasized with gold.
Yeesookyung describes her process as being intuitive; she does not impose any predetermined form, but, rather, works in unison with the pieces allowing the form to emerge naturally into its own unique creation. The finished works achieve for themselves a captivating asymmetry.
While she identifies her inspiration as coming from the Korean tradition of repairing Buddhist temple statues in the same fashion, her approach bears strong similarities to the Japanese ceramic tradition of Kintsugi (金継ぎ?, “gold joinery“). And the origins of the two ideas align closely.
Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi) is a Japanese method for repairing broken ceramics with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history of the object and to visibly incorporate the repair into the new piece instead of disguising it.
The process usually results in something more beautiful than the original.
That drawing attention to the “wound” or “brokenness” of a vessel would result in its being ultimately more beautiful arrests me; it places a value of dignity on honesty! A Western mindset would either repair the vessel in a way that hides (denies?) damage, or discard the vessel altogether. This betrays a brittle criteria for value; one which can be compromised through flaws and breaks. If applied to the inanimate, how are we applying it in the human context?
But to gild the broken edges in honesty, and to honor the history of the vessel is a lovely thing. It is truthful and real. One of the Kintsugi craftsmen in the video provided below explains,
Our culture finds it very important that we understand the spiritual background or the history behind the person or the material.
Art does seep from culture, but so does culture from art; also often unnoticed. But, once perceived, it grants new perspectives. Art tends to mirror a society back to itself.
Returning to Yeesookyung’s “Translated Vase” series, I also admire the communal value exhibited in her work. That a collection of broken “ceramic trash” might be fused together in a way that takes the artist herself on a journey toward its own completion; this is wonderful! The celebrated embrace of mutual woundedness with gold lacquer, and the subsequent fusing of shattered pieces wound-to-wound is nothing if not eloquent.
What might our society ascertain from this message?