Rachel Sussman wants to pave the streets with gold–or at least repair them with it. For her project, Sidewalk Kintsukuroi, the artist has been filling in the cracks of the sidewalk with resin and gold dust.
The project was inspired by the Japanese art of kintsukuroi, which involves using lacquer to repair broken pottery and then covering the remnants of the cracks with gold leaf paint. “The thing that really reeled me in was the idea that something is made more beautiful for having been broken, appreciating the quiet wear and tear and quiet dignity of something that’s stood the test of time,” Sussman says.
Sussman used bronze to fill in a series of long cracks in the asphalt entrance to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art for a recent exhibition. And a 30-foot gold and bronze dust-filled crack in the smooth floor of the Des Moines Art Center is currently on view as part of the center’s Alchemy: Transformations in Gold exhibition–a work that recalls the artist Andy Goldsworthy’s long crevice at the De Young Museum.
Though filling in the cracks of city streets with gold is too expensive to do on her own dime, Sussman is continuing the project through images. She photographs intriguingly shaped cracks in the sidewalk, prints out the images, and adds gold paint to accomplish a similar effect. But she needs a patron to complete each real-life piece, and hopes to be commissioned by more art centers to add a little sparkle to their own cracked pavement and stone.
“It’s taking this precious object and taking the practice literally out into the streets,” Sussman says. “I really wanted to celebrate this idea of healing and paying attention to things like cracks in the sidewalk and floor, things beneath our feet, that seem beneath our notice.”
Repairing a crack takes weeks, as Sussman painstakingly crouches on the ground, injecting tree-sap based resin into the gap and then using a small device–designed for creating sand mandalas–to sprinkle the gold dust on top. Called a chakpur, the hollow instrument holds the dust (or sand) inside while Sussman runs a metal rod back and forth along its length, slowly distributing the dust, which is composed of 23.5-carat gold mixed with bronze powder, along the fissure. She seals in the golden crack with another clear layer of resin. She finds the process uncomfortable, but meditative.
Sussman’s previous work also deals with time and decay but focuses more on nature. Her project The Oldest Living Things in the World is a collection of photographs of the most ancient organisms that are still alive today, while her most current project is a sand mandala depicting the cosmic microwave background–an image of the earliest light in the Universe. Compared to these examinations of ancient things, the sidewalk cracks of Sidewalk Kintsukuroi are recent phenomena. However, though they exist on a scale much smaller than some examples of natural erosion like you’d find at the Grand Canyon, cracking sidewalks don’t happen overnight. The work is imbued with a sense of gradual decay.
“In an urban setting, you see cracks in the pavement. It’s a bit of urban geology,” Sussman says. “When you start to pay attention and start to repair them, you start to create a beautiful resonance that speaks to both personal and collective healing.”