The Art of Embracing Decay – University of Copenhagen

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09 February 2017

The Art of Embracing Decay


We cannot get through life without bumps and bruises, and that calls for repairs. The exhibition KINTSUGI: Golden body repairs at Medical Museion explores repairs of the body focussing on the curious, brilliant and beautiful.

The man who made the arm prosthesis exerted himself to create detailed nail carvings. 

The exhibition KINTSUGI: Golden body repairs is inspired by the Japanese Kintsugi tradition in which broken pottery is visibly repaired using lacquer and gold dust. Kintsugi means golden joinery. Instead of hiding the repairs to the pottery they are enhanced and thus add strength, value and beauty to the repaired object. The exhibition explores Kintsugi as a metaphor for the repairs made to our bodies throughout life and thus challenges the general understanding of aging as a process characterised by decay and decline.

’The exhibition contains 37 object, each of which is an example of a form of body repair. In some cases, the body itself has mended a broken bone using new, strong bone tissue, while in other cases, medical science and technology have lent a helping hand’, Curator Anne Bernth Jensen from the Center for Healthy Aging and Medical Museion explains.

The exhibited objects come from all parts of Medical Museion’s large collection and represent both past and present examples of body repairs.

‘The objects show how the various repairs have focussed equally on beauty and function. It is evident that an effort has been made, for example creating relatively simple wooden arm prostheses with limited function, to imitate the skin and fingers down to the last detail. Among the present-day object, the pacemakers in particular are brilliant, in my opinion. Using small electrical impulses, they are able to re-establish regular heart sounds. It is beautiful and simple’, says Anne Bernth Jensen.

The pacemakers almost look like Zippo lighters, but instead of producing a flame, they are able to re-establish regular heart sounds.

Science and Technology Increase Opportunities to Make Repairs
The exhibition was created in collaboration with Professor Rudi Westendorp from the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen. In his book Kunsten at blive ældre (Strandberg Publishing 2016) he presents a far more positive view of aging than the one we are usually faced with. Our opportunities for repairing and improving ourselves are still increasing, and just like Japanese Kintsugi pottery we do not have to look at body repairs as weaknesses.

’Not long ago hip fractures ended the lives of many people. Today, with great success, we use needles and pins to make the bones heal. We are even able to repair clogged blood vessels in the heart using complex structures that would make a goldsmith jealous’, says Professor Rudi Westendorp from the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Public Health.

KINTSUGI: Golden body repairs can be seen at Medical Museion, Bredgade 62, København K. During the winter break – weeks 7 and 8 – the museum offers special Kintsugi activities for children aged 4-10, who will get a chance to mend broken toys the Kintsugi way.

Read more and buy tickets

You can also read more about the exhibition and Medical Museion on the museum’s website. The Center for Healthy Aging is funded by Nordea-fonden.