Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Kintsugi

At first, the thought of "beautiful brokenness" seems an oxymoron. When something breaks we immediately think it has lost its worth. We discard it. This may be true of a dinner plate, but how about something of great value, such as a priceless vase, a work of art or a person? 

The art of kintsugi pottery takes us back to the 15th century, when, as the story goes, a Japanese shogun was given a priceless piece of pottery. In transit, it broke and the shogun returned it to the maker to be mended. The vase was sent back to him, held together with ugly metal staples. Appalled by this, the shogun commissioned his artisans to repair the vase in a more sympathetic way. Kintsugi, translated as ‘golden joinery’, is the artistry they created. The repaired pottery is now a thing of even greater beauty because of its brokenness.

The Bride Stripped Bare
In 1970, one of the original Rodin casts of The Thinker was irreparably damaged by an explosive device the equivalent of three sticks of dynamite planted by a radical political group protesting the Vietnam war. Since the piece was so radically damaged, the Museum was not sure how to proceed with its restoration. It was finally decided that the statue would not be repaired, but left outside the Museum in its damaged condition, merely preserving the sculpture by preventing further damage. Though not truly kintsugi, Cleveland's The Thinker is far more fascinating than any of the others.

Marcel Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) is a fabulous example of kintsugi. Duchamp finished the piece in 1923 when it went on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Its permanent home was scheduled to be in Duchamp's semi-home base, The Philadelphia Museum of Art. In transit, the two pieces of glass were shattered. It took ten years for Duchamp to repair the pieces and in 1933 they were installed in the museum where they stand today. Said art historian Carlos Bastauldo, "Occupying the space in the museum chosen by the artist a half-century ago, The Large Glass has become the subject of extensive scholarship, and the object of pilgrimages for countless visitors drawn to its witty, intelligent and vastly liberating redefinition of what a work of art can be." The Bride Stripped Bare is the art world's ultimate example of beautiful brokenness.


I got the latest Death Cab LP, Kintsugi, over a year ago. I listened to nothing else for weeks, the album usurping the reign of The Decemberists' What a Terrible World. But then I went off on one of my Beatles tangents and a jazz stint and a 60s thing, and I forgot all about it. After the concert a couple months ago where I rediscovered Copeland and Eisley, I stumbled across Kintsugi once again. It fit snuggly into my mellow mood. Having initially given it an AM6, I feel now that I grossly underestimated Death Cab's latest offering. The soul of DCfC is askew without Chris Walla, still I'm bumping it up to an AM7.

When Lennon sang "Feeling two foot small" to McCartney for the first time in 1964, he corrected himself, but at Paul's encouragement, he let it be; small was certainly a better twist, more intriguing than tall. That symbiosis is why the Beatles were the Beatles. The songs were rarely Lennon/McCartney, but they wouldn't have been the same without the partnership. That's my impression of Kintsugi, it's distant to me; less DC, more Gibbard. I'm not sad or disappointed, mind you; we got seven years out of Lennon/McCartney; we got 17 out of Gibbard/Walla (doesn't have the same ring to it). The broken pieces of Kintsugi are not better than they were before, but this is still essential Death Cab. 


I don't know where to begin
There's too many things that I can't remember
As I disappeared like a trend
In the hum of the 5 in the early morning
And now I'm taking my time
Up through Coalinga through the Valley
This highway lived in my mind
It takes me back to the place that made me
Was I in your way

When the cameras turned to face you?
No room in frame
For two

You cannot outrun a ghost
Speeding south bound lanes with abandon
It catches you on the coast
Or on the cliffs of the Palisades you killed the engine
And then it hovers above
Reeling bodies failing to discover
The thing they once knew as love
Raising their voices to convince one another

How can I stay
In the sun
When the rain flows
All through my veins
It's true

And I guess it's not a failure we could help
And we'll both go on to get lonely with someone else
With someone else 


"In the West, if you break an heirloom, you either throw it away or you make the repair as invisible as possible. But there's this artistic movement in Japan where the repair of it, the damage of it, is more important as part of the history of something than repairing it to its original state." Nick Harmer - DCfC

BTW, To further pay tribute to their roots, artist Joe Rudko adapted the art of kintsugi by using old photographs from an estate sale in Bellingham, the hometown of Death Cab for Cutie. What you see on the LP cover is in fact photographs rearranged after being run through the shredder. Pretty cool concept.