⟨ Craft ⟩

Could we start over again?

Kintsukuroi by Lai Wen-chin

Words & Photography / MINICHERRYB
Translation / Iris Heung
Special Thanks / broom design 畚

她:不如我們重新開始。
他:你確信可以重修舊好?還是只是表面上的好?
她:我不知道,但我只想修好關係。
他:在你心中,怎樣才算得上「修好」?
她:我不知道,你可不可以不要老是反問句。
他:那我們,還是不要再重新開始。

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.

重生還是創作

我問文進: 這些工藝算是重生嗎?
他反問: 我沒想過用「重生」來形容金繕。破碎的陶瓷,再利用漆料、粘合劑、金粉修補過後,它還是如初嗎?是重生,還是另一件作品?

「如初、重新、重生」,都隱約伴隨著回到過去的美好,人類對過往美好的眷戀。是從來沒有放下過嗎?還是一直相信「給我多一次機會,一定可以做得更好,一定可以更幸福」的信念?這茶杯被修補過了,單是模樣便不同了,你會說它還是從前的杯子嗎?

我們或者沒需要追求如初或重生,就單純地專注重組、修好那些破碎。

To be reborn or to create?

“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.

【把不需要的除去 補上需要的】

我:修復其實是甚麼意思?
文進:金繕、鋦瓷都是技法,而修復其中一項工序是清理,它破損時,破口有時會黏附沙石灰塵。如破損了的老舊佛像也會有香燻痕跡,除掉不屬於它的東西,再補需要的東西,使它完整,就是修復。
我:那請問一般修復跟金繕、鋦瓷的差異在於甚麼?
他:一般工藝修復會使用化學物修補,如果是食器便不能再使用,但利用金繕、鋦瓷作修復,食器的功能還能保留。

修復,重修舊好原來不只是補補貼貼,那些陋習、那些皮肉之間的碎片還得咬著牙沖洗乾淨,在撫平傷口之前,是清除不需要,再加上需要的。修復過後,不是追求還原如初,是追求可再使用。

疫情過後,香港社運,一段感情,沒法再如初。修復,是先減後加,平衡本身,使之能活著,不止於表面風光。

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.

金繕打磨工具 -(上) 鯛魚牙, (下)瑪瑙刀
Polishing tools for Kintsukuroi –
(Top) A tool made of sea bream teeth, (Bottom) A tool made of agate stone

【不如追求任性】

我: 是不是執著才能當修復師?
文進:修復師都很固執,會想怎麼可以更好。但有一次我把修復的觀音給朋友看,請他看看我修得怎麼樣,哪裡可更好,他指著一處沒有破損過的地方說那邊可以修得更好。
我:那位置沒有被委託修復,也沒有需要修復對不對?
他:是,那一刻,我覺得我在堅持甚麼? 自己看到好像可以更好,但別人根本沒有發現甚麼,我在想甚麼才是完美?人創造機器,使作品更為工整、標準化,但後來又發現過於工整,又回到追求人性化的手工藝。所以現在做金繕時,我會任性地認為這樣好美,我喜歡,修復夠了。

任性跟固執或許沒有衝突,在工作上,人們為了金錢價值或是感情原因去修復陶瓷作品,但在金繕,單純的興趣,任性地「修復」本來便沒有修復說明書的器物,使其能再被使用。說到底,不管是愛情、或是帶著感情的生活,任性最終還是比固執感到快樂及活潑,修復除去「惜物」、「重生」和「不完美就是完美」的夢幻框架,不就單純地好玩?任性地追求心中所想,使那件器物、那段感情、那個地方能美好地活著。

How about being willful?

“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.