Art, Went There

Silver, Gold, and Lithium Sutures // Kintsugi ++ by Certain Measures at Le Laboratoire

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If it weren’t for the clinking of glassware and the chattering din of patrons at Le Laboratoire’s Café ArtScience, Certain Measures’ newest installation would feel positively Lynchian. Kintsugi++ is installed in a gray ovular alcove to the right of the bar, partitioned by heavy curtains of the same color. A curvilinear couch upholstered in green velvet is caught in the crosshairs of two projector beams from either side of the room. In both projections, chinoiserie and crockery rotate around the space hypnotically. Toss in a checkered floor or some backwards talking, and I would have scanned the corners for a crouching Bob. It didn’t help that the scent of hot coffee was wafting in from the restaurant’s commercial kitchen.

All incidental allusions to the Black Lodge aside, Kintsugi++ is simply stunning. The computer-generated images are crisp and perfectly synchronized. The walls, the floor, and the simulated crockery all have the same smooth texture and the resulting uniformity is nearly meditative. In choosing to project these images instead of display them on a T.V. screen, Certain Measures lend the work an additional layer of ethereality. Between the glittering of the projectors’ beams and the video’s glossiness—glossy, a word fit for late-night murmurs between two servers caught in a binary tryst— the whole installation feels on the cusp of becoming liquid.

That is until, struck by some unseen force, each impossibly smooth skeuomorph of vases, casserole dishes, and tea china, are obliterated into tiny chaotic fragments wrenched from their original forms. The forms burst into hundreds of careening fragments on screen. As the shards disperse, they are caught, identified, and codified by an imagined computer “trained in the delicate art of mosaic.” This computer catalogues them in mid-air then meticulously reconfigures them with other shards, creating new and unrecognizable vessels. The edges of some pieces aren’t flush with others; their gaps bring to mind leaks and missing pieces. As amalgamated chinoiserie, the vessels have been stripped of their elegance and function.

This is the new Kintsugi, an automated update to the traditional craftsmanship of mending broken pottery with liquid gold. Instead of glimmering seams reattaching fragments to their whole, the minerals in the device’s circuit boards that programmed this display suture the pieces together with code. And here is the crux of Kintsugi ++: it’s not really designed to mend or “upcycle” as the installation’s webpage asserts. The broken crockery fluttering in front of the viewer is planned, preprogrammed, and intentioned. It is a narrative anchor in the process of the installation. In simulating brokenness, the installation works as it was designed. Kintsugi++ performs breakage and repairs instead of enacting breakage and repairs. Certain Measures may have been more effective if the installation had demonstrated actual, digital breakage, what we could consider as “glitch.” Designing a program or visualization that worked with a series of randomized, proliferating glitches and error screens, even forced shut-downs and reboots would have been a more salient approach to the notion of digital mending.

Ultimately, Kintsugi++ lacks in substance what it flaunts in design. Visually, the installation is stunning—maybe even moreso after a couple of drinks. But without a serious consideration of the boundaries of digital technologies as medium, the work feels more like a brief, mildly intriguing distraction from awkward social interactions over small plates. Call it the arthouse equivalent of flat-screen T.V.s in a sport bar. Cooper-as-Dougie might be amused, but me… not so much.

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