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Rediscovering wholeness

A YEAR ago the world broke. The familiar patterns of our lives shattered. Jobs have been lost. Lives ended. And while the arrival of vaccines has given a measure of hope, we have had to find other ways to mend ourselves. Some find solace in faith. Others in therapy. One man found it in putting broken pieces back together and in the process creating beauty.

In the quiet hours before dawn, singer/host Raymond Lauchengco gets out of bed to prepare for what he considers is his “most productive hours.” Instead of humming or recalling a tune, or reviewing the lines of a script, the early mornings are spent preparing his work station for restoring broken ceramics, and creating sculptures and furniture.

“I start by 4 or 5 [a.m.] and continue until about 3 p.m. to clean up the mess I made. Then, at around 5 p.m., I start to cook dinner for my family,” Mr. Lauchengco told BusinessWorld in an e-mail. He added that he works continuously except for quick breaks to check on his children, whom he and his wife are homeschooling.

It has been a year since Mar. 15, 2020 when the country was put under a strict lockdown due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“When enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was enforced a year ago, I turned to making things as a way of keeping myself busy (and sane). Art is what keeps me afloat during these very challenging times,” he said.

In his website, Mr. Lauchengco wrote of his wife falling ill and his father’s passing during the first quarter of last year. His calendar suddenly cleared as bookings for his many performances were canceled since the live events industry halted operations and has yet to resume.

It was then that “I began sawing, carving, sanding, hammering, smashing, and taking things apart…,” said Mr. Lauchengco in the description of his Ikigai collection.

Ikigai, according to Wikipedia, “is a Japanese concept that means ‘a reason for being.’ The word refers to having a direction or purpose in life, that which makes one’s life worthwhile, and towards which an individual takes spontaneous and willing actions giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life.”

Ikigai is the perfect description for what the singer found amongst the tree trunks and branches he scavenged in his village.

“At first it was just to keep my mind occupied,” said Mr. Lauchengco of the reworked driftwood, glass globes, bottles, and ostrich eggs that he turned into lamps and candle holders, vases and tables. “But when people started seeing photos of my work on Facebook and Instagram, they started to cheer me on and encourage me to do an online exhibit which I eventually did last April.”

“The first 12 pieces I made sold out, and part of the proceeds were donated to displaced production workers in the live events industry to which I belong.”

After four online exhibits, Mr. Lauchengco added another art style to his repertoire —  he studied kintsugi-style restoration in December last year. It resulted in his fifth online exhibit, titled Unbroken.

Kintsugi is a more than 500-year-old art form in which broken ceramics are repaired with gold, silver, or platinum powder mixed with lacquer so that the cracks are not hidden but emphasized. Mr. Lauchengco clarified that his works are “kintsugi-inspired” since he uses modern materials that are more accessible. “I refer to my work as ‘Unbroken’, not kintsugi. ‘Unbroken’ is inspired by kintsugi, but different if you take into account the traditional materials the Japanese artisans use,” he said.

“I first heard about kintsugi — the art of precious scars, from my church many years ago. And although I found it fascinating, restoring something I’d normally discard without a second thought, highlighting it’s imperfections to make it extraordinary never appealed to me until I went through the year that was 2020,” Mr. Lauchengco said.

“…In my case, turning the broken into the unbroken could be a reflection of what it means to be human,” he said, citing how humans break, pick up the pieces, and deal with them to become whole again.

Mr. Lauchengco learned his craft through reading books, watching videos online, and practicing the proper strokes with the paintbrush to make the paint look like liquid gold. He uses broken modern ceramics to restore rather than precious ancient things.

His creations are very much his own.

“I started to experiment with different kinds of paint, all sorts of adhesives, and fillers.  When I wanted to add things like texture, I adapted wall surface treatments into my work. When I wanted to add more focal points, I took inspiration from modern architecture and incorporated ‘windows’ into the restored ceramics by deliberately not putting back a broken piece or two,” Mr. Lauchengco said. “If I wanted the window to be opaque, I’d fabricate the missing piece with clay. If I wanted it transparent, I’d use colored glass from broken bottles to fill in the space.”

In the last year, he has finished more than 56 pieces, ranging from functional art and furniture, to sculptures and his “unbroken” ceramics.

“You can have all the ideas you need, but ideas don’t come with an instruction manual. You have to figure that out yourself and make adjustments along the way,” Mr. Lauchengco said. “More often than not, it’s the material that you are working with that ultimately decides what it wants to become. You just have to be sensitive enough to realize that and cooperate.”

As the live events industry is yet to resume operations, Mr. Lauchengco admits that he misses singing terribly. But even if the curtains did start rising again, he will continue working on the art he creates with his hands —  since discovering “the fulfillment of making art and there simply is no turning back.”

Slots to Mr. Lauchengco’s first online kintsugi-style restoration workshop called “Unbroken” on March 20 have filled up. For more information on Mr. Lauchengco’s artworks, visit https://www.raymondlauchengco.com/. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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