In the Spring of 2014, after spending a decade working on her photography book, The Oldest Living Things in the World, artist Rachel Sussman came across an image circulating on the internet: a broken bowl that had been restored using gold dust and glue. The bowl was the product of a traditional Japanese art practice called kintsukuroi, which translates to ‘golden repair’ and involves fixing broken pottery with lacquer that’s been mixed or dusted with powdered color pigment. After she was introduced to the technique, Sussman had the idea to take this practice to the streets—literally—by using it to repair cracks in sidewalks. This concept ultimately went on to become the basis of her ongoing series, Sidewalk Kintsukuroi, a contemporary take on the traditional Japanese practice.
Time has been the central question in all of Sussman’s artworks from the last few years. The Oldest Living Things in the World, Sussman was already engaged with the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of wabi-sabi when she began work on Sidewalk Kintsukuroi.
Wabi-Sabi is an ideal that recognizes a certain appreciation for how things age and a wisdom in the natural life cycles of things, “whether it’s a human life, the life of a tree, or even a human-made object,” Sussman tells Creators. When she started, Sussman loved this idea of something being more beautiful having been broken, and wanted to create work that made a connection between personal time and cosmic time. She started with a selection of works on paper where should we take a photograph of compelling cracks and then paint directly onto the 8.5×11″ picture with enamel and gold dust.
Soon after, Sussman did her first museum installation of the series as part of a Mass MOCA exhibition called The Space Between. The installation eventually caught the eye of curator Laura Burkhalter, who at the time was putting on Alchemy: Transformations in Gold, a show at the Des Moines Art Center. Sussman tells us the exhibition not only fit with the ‘gold’ aspect of her work, but it challenged this contemporary idea of America as this place where the streets are paved with gold, an idea she was very much interested in pursuing. “Well the streets are not paved with gold. But by repairing them with gold, something as mundane as a street or sidewalk, or in this case the floor of a museum, can be transformed into something that can connect us with a deeper timescale that is outside of what we can observe with the naked eye,” Sussman tells Creators. The artist feels that by using gold to repair something that is usually considered a flaw, like a crack in the concrete, she can reframe it as something of value that honors the natural processes that got us to where we are now.
One could argue that the sentiments presented in Sussman’s work confront the fast-paced, hyperconnected, and hyperstimulated culture of our society. Sussman believes that when we connect with these different art forms, it connects us to deeper time scales that are outside the five minutes ago, five minutes from now mentality we live in. “We’ve gotten more and more myopic and have lost sight of the bigger picture. My feeling is that by connecting with these deeper time scales that is the first step to engaging in long term thinking, and to me that a moral question,” she says. “Whether it’s the social justice and environmental issues, imagine if we all engaged in long term thinking as opposed to narrow minded ideas of basically scarcity as opposed to abundance.”
Check out more work by Rachel Sussman on her website.