台灣陶瓷文物修護修復師賴文進，業餘鑽研金繕（Kintsukuroi），並在不同的藝文空間授課，甚至曾受邀到訪香港開辦金繕課程。金繕起源於中國，發揚於日本，主要是修復陶瓷，除了以土粘合、有些也會用上補釘，這技術稱為鋦瓷（Staple China Art）。
She asks, “Could we start over again?” He replies, “Do you really believe broken things can be mended? Aren’t they fixed only on the surface?” She says, “I don’t know. All I want is to rebuild our relationship.” He says, “What does ‘rebuild’ mean to you?” She says, “I don’t know. Can’t you stop replying to me with questions?” He says, “Then let’s not start over again.”
As a Taiwanese artist specializing in conserving ceramic objects of historical value, Wenchin Lai is particularly fond of Kintsukuroi, which is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by rejoining the ceramic pieces with lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum. During his free time, he also teaches this repairing technique in various art spaces. He was also once invited to Hong Kong for a Kintsukuroi workshop. Although Kintsukuroi is commonly known as Japanese art, it was, in fact, originated from China before gaining its popularity in Japan. Another similar technique of repairing broken ceramic objects is called staple repair that holds the broken piece using metal staples.
“Would you say the objects are reborn through this technique?” I ask Wenchin.
“I have never thought of using the word ‘reborn’ to describe the effect of Kintsukuroi. Are we trying to return the broken pottery to its original state by conserving them using lacquer, glue, and powdered gold? Are they reborn, or have they become a new object?”
To a certain extent, restoring something to its original state reflects how much we cling to the past. Can we ever leave the past behind? Do we really have such a faithful belief that we can do better if we were given another chance? A broken cup will look different after being mended, so is it still the same cup?
Perhaps there is no need to be obsessed with restoring things to its former state, as there is another form of beauty lying in reforming and mending the broken pieces.
Removing the unnecessary and replace it with the necessary
“What is restoration?” I ask. Wenchin says, “Kintsukuroi and staple repair are some of the restoration techniques. Cleaning is also one step of the process. Dust can easily attach to the edge of the shattered pieces, so they need to be cleaned up. The residue of incense smoke can often be found on old buddha statues, so the traces need to be removed before proceeding to mend. In this sense, restoration is to remove things that are not supposed to be part of the object before adding back some missing bits to make the object complete again.
“So how are Kintsukuroi and staple repair different from other reparation techniques?” “The usual techniques tend to repair using chemical materials, which will make tableware unsuitable for serving food. Kintsukuroi and staple repair, on the other hand, would not affect the nature of the pottery so they can be used as food containers again.
Repairing is not about patching things up with other materials, it is also about brushing off all the unwanted residue that stays on the surface of an object and smoothen out the broken edges. It is a process of removing the undesirables and putting on what are needed. The artisans are not trying to restore an object to its former appearance, but to make it useful once again.
After the social movement and the pandemic, Hong Kong will no longer be the same again. The moral of repairing is to maintain a balance between what are removed and what are added, and ultimately lead to a new life that is not only prospering on the surface.
“Do you need to be adamant to be a conservation artist?” Wenchin replies to my question saying, “Conservation artists are pretty stubborn. We wouldn’t stop thinking about how to achieve perfection. One time, I showed my friend a Guanyin statue that I repaired for feedback. He pointed at a damaged spot, saying I could have done better there.” “Was it a spot that you were not requested to fix, or a spot that didn’t need to be mended?” I ask.
“Indeed. At that moment, I began to question myself the point of being stubborn. Everyone has a different standard as we all have a different focus, so what exactly is perfect? Human invented machinery to standardize products, only to come to realize later that standardized products lack a human touch. Handmade products have then become a hype again. My Kintsukuroi nowadays merely follow my own standard; I try to be willful and do whatever I find beautiful.”
Willfulness and stubbornness are perhaps not mutually exclusive. Professionally, Wenchin repairs pottery objects that are of high value or those that the owners are emotionally attached to, but Kintsukuroi is purely his passion. He would listen to his heart to repair the pottery in his own way. There is no user manual on how to repair the ceramic ware; the only objective is to make them usable once again. A willful way of living can surely bring one more joy and creativity than being stubborn. This can be a better attitude to treat love or any other emotions. Forget about all those illusionary ideas of cherishing what you own, let the tangible items be reborn, or the fluffy concepts of imperfect perfection, why don’t we see repairing as simple as a fun activity? We can learn to be willful to actualize what we have in mind, and let an object, a memory of love, or a place live a fascinating life.