The ancient Japanese art of kintsugi has its roots in the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which consists of the serene acceptance of imperfection, impermanence and the simplicity of life. 

The technique, which has been used for centuries to restore broken ceramic objects with gold dust, is the result of patient work that transforms the very essence of objects by embellishing their fracture lines. Fragility in kintsugi is a key element: enhanced and exalted to the point that the very breaking lines of the object, embellished with gold, become the distinctive and unique mark, giving it a contemplative value that transcends its former function of use. The change in the state of the object, the result of the transformation it undergoes in the restoration activity, lends itself to reflections that go far beyond the mere technical aspect.

What relationship between kintsugi and our days?

We live in difficult times, in which the anxieties and fears unleashed over the past three years by the pandemic are amplified today by the spectre of a global war. It is widely believed that the pandemic represented a moment of crisis, an accelerator of change that altered our lives and our way of thinking. But it is not the only one. According to a recent article published in British economic media, the term ‘polycrisis’ well defines the contemporary world, characterised by many major crises: in addition to the health crisis, in fact, the economic, climate and political crises amplify the already widespread uncertainties about the future, which in the absence of certain points of reference exacerbate fears, disorientation, liability. The pandemic has helped open new and unpredictable scenarios that call into question our ability to change and transform mindsets in more or less radical ways.

In recent years, the dramatic impact of the pandemic has led people living and working in organizations, businesses, and communities to question themselves and the fragile balance on which global society stands. Everything seems more accelerated, changes increasingly permeating our lives on both an individual and societal level.

Our existence is thus increasingly exposed to situations of fragility: it may be a sudden change in the situation at work or in an emotional relationship, as well as the breakdown in interpersonal relationships, the loss of a series of daily habits and practices that give us stability and security. What can we do, when the turbulence of the outside world brings our certainties, habits and practices to a breaking point, revealing the fragile dimension of our nature? How can we contain anxieties in times of uncertainty? How can we support each other? How do we prepare ourselves to regain our “ability to think”?

A stimulus for reflection can come from kintsugi, which becomes a useful metaphor for the process of containment and reconstruction needed to deal with a situation of crisis or breakdown of a balance built over time.

Here then that gathering the shards, cleaning them of dust, choosing the sequence for gluing them together, reconstructing the missing material, and preparing the glue with gold dust are the steps in a ritual that also allows one to approach, metaphorically, reflection on the ways and times needed to deal with change at moments of transition in life.

There is an ambivalence that the action of putting the pieces back together can take, beginning with the two words, repair and recompose, which are often used as synonyms in common parlance. Among the various meanings of the word repair is that of putting back in good order, restoring, accommodating, remedying. But also that of “to parry against” understood as to defend, protect, prevent. To recompose, on the other hand, indicates the activity of putting together and mixing various things to make one, to compose anew, to give better arrangement and, metaphorically, to reconcile, to gather together and restore to quiet. This is where the true nature of the art of kintsugi lies.

Let us think about our own experiences. How many times, in order to put the broken pieces of existence back together, have we found ourselves putting up barriers to shelter ourselves from situations that caused us great pain? How many times, instead, have we taken the opportunity in crisis to find a new balance, leading to a kind of reconciliation with ourselves? If we are to become more aware of our responsibilities toward a sustainable world and repair the fractures in our connection with nature and the social environment, we must re-imagine a future together, adopting a listening stance toward others and a multi-centered view of the world.

Kintsugi as a metaphor is useful in getting us accustomed to the fact that the reassembly of something that is broken is not a spontaneous and automatic action, rather it is the result of intentionality and patient work that brings into play the ability to redefine a new arrangement of the broken pieces. Glue soaked in gold dust becomes a metaphor for the ability to recompose areas of fracture. It is not a repair aimed at restoring the object’s original function of use, it implies a process of change, necessary to give the object a new form.

Our Golden Glue Labs delves into these contemporary challenges. Inspired by the Japanese technique of Kintsugi, our workshops offer tailor-made interventions to recompose fractures and support the generative capacity that transforms crisis into opportunities for individual and organizational development. Starting with the metaphor of kintsugi, we offer a path that combines expressive technique and reflexivity, ceramics and narrative approach, to address the delicate topic of recomposing social and life wounds. It is a process of recognizing and accepting fragilities and being aware of the resources we can bring to change the state of things.

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