between figuration & abstraction

Between figuration & abstraction / Arturo Schwartz from his book of Israeli Art, "Love at First Sight"
 

When I first saw Deganit Stern-Schocken’s complex miniature sculptures, I thought that they could also be called jewels if we extend the term to what it actually comprises, “a marvel, a highly valued treasure”. I remember four verses by a poet whose name, I am ashamed to say, I have forgotten.
“A poor life this / if, full of care / we have no time / to stand and stare”. Over half a century has passed since I first read these verses in the unequal analogy of English poetry, Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, yet I have never forgotten them, perhaps because they remind me that most of us have left out of our lives that wonderful emotion, that feeling of awe that stems from meditating on beauty. It is precisely this “time to stare” that is
needed if one wants to enter into Stern-Schocken’s wonder world and delve into the exquisite intricacies of what can be called by no other name than “miniature sculptures”.
That is exactly what they are, in addition to being jewels; because of their size, they can also be worn.

   Stern-Schocken has acknowledged that, for her, “making jewelry is a form of expression like poetry or music” (1984). Indeed, poetry need not only be verbal, it is the kind of emotion

(I borrow the term from the great Surrealist poet Pierre Reverdy, who titled an essay “This emotion called Poetry”) that can stem from making love, from the sight of a beautiful person, event, or thing. Similarly, there may be a musical quality in the harmony of a gesture, in the relationship of the parts to the whole, in the flowing line of a shape, in the surprise of an unexpected event. Discarding the traditional static role of a sculpture (or jewel), all of these happen in her sculptures, which are rather dynamic events. Being the outcome of a love affair between the artist and the material, they are endowed with poetry and a musical quality which spring from the secret harmony between creator and created, between maker and the thing made.

   As in all creative activities, the dialectic relationship between rational conceptual ideation and irrational emotional inspiration accounts for the birth of a work of art; in Stern-Schocken’s case this dialectic relationship is exacerbated by her stubborn will to tackle every creative problem from a completely new angle. Making evident what is supposed to be hidden is but one of her favorite methods. In the case of a brooch, she brings to the
foreground and transforms into aesthetic objects the hinge to which the spike is connected, the spike or needle, and the clasp that holds the spike. These have always been considered unimportant and hidden behind the jewel. Stern-Schocken makes these seemingly secondary
elements into as many unexpected factors of the brooch’s singular beauty. “The functional is

transformed into the aesthetic…the clasp becomes a line; the hinge, volume; and the frames, drawing in space” (Gerstein, 1984, n.p.).

An equally fascinating innovation is the introduction of a kinetic element into what is supposed to be perfectly static. However, the movement she creates is not an added, artificial component of the sculpture (as may be the case in kinetic art), but instead is inherent to the piece, a necessary and functional component, and forms the unavoidable finishing touch, coming as a real and pleasant surprise. Motion continuously changes the
object’s appearance, as when the movement is caused by the hinges, which may open or close at different angles. The very core of the sculpture may be mobile, as in the series of silver pools which includes such fascinating items as Three-Storey Pool, Pool With Spout, Two Level Pool, and Divided Pool (all 1993), all with a minute dose of inlaid mobile green water. The exquisitely elegant and precise configuration of the series testifies to Stern-Schocken’s architectural studies, which preceded her training in the Jewelry Department of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and in London where, for four years, she continued studying jewelry design at two of England’s best schools.

The third innovation that characterizes Stern-Schocken’s production lies in her transmuting ability.
 

“I made a stone out of water” she  confided, adding “from the idea that it might be possible to make a stone, instead of receiving one as a gift, came the thought that one could perhaps make a stone out of any material, cloth, for example, or water” (Sukman, 1995 n.p.). The importance of this operation lies in the fact that the mobile element enhances the beauty of the structure, while a real stone would eclipse it. In Stern-Schocken’s words, “in the world of jewelry the stone is a status symbol, a value which is positioned in the center, inside a house. When the stone is hard, like a diamond, we are occupied with the stone. When the stone is liquid, we are occupied with the structure. In Pools, the structure of the house becomes the main thing – and the ‘stone’, which is water, becomes an experience, not a material” (ibid.). Elsewhere she had already clarified that, in addition to adding fascination to the structure, an “unnatural” stone focuses the whole structure with its uniqueness. “the less the stone is defined, as in the ‘water stones’, the more the setting absorbs focus and consequently becomes more ‘unsettling’” (Stern-Schocken 1993 n.p.)

   Stern-Schocken’s desire to harmonize polarities finds perfect expression in using a liquid as a metaphor for a solid, which enables her to “suggest the meeting of thepermanent with the temporary” (ibid.) and “explore movement as a shape” (Stern-Schocken 1990, n.p.). The same impulse is gratified when shaping her necklaces, which, when worn, continue the

movement of the body and induce the identification of the viewer and the viewed; the wearer becomes “involved in the aesthetic experience” since there occurs “a transformation from seeing to being, from feeling a space to entering a place” (ibid.).

   Returning to the major role movement has in her works, Stern-Schocken has stated that it constitutes “a condition for [her] work” (1993, n.p.) since it has become the setting where antinomies can be reconciled. “in the past I treated movement as the central content and subject matter of my jewelry. Recently I have experienced with movement as the dynamic
place in which relations cohere” (ibid.). David Gerstein has also noted the constant dialectical play that Stern-Schocken’s works show. “there is an active dialogue between surface and line, between supple and hard, between shiny and mute, between light and dark, thus creating a sense of both tension and completeness among the elements” (1984, n.p.).

   A last word should be said about Stern-Schocken’s necklaces, but can we really call her endless flowing chains, incorporating, as they develop, gems, stones, glass beads, circular, oval, or geometric shapes (as in Story, [1989], Israel Museum, no. 78) merely necklaces?
Rather than being a single unit, each necklace is composed of a sequence of unexpected refined aesthetic events, in which the wearer’s whole body, front and back, are involved. For Stern-Schocken, her necklaces “are similar to the streets of a city

through which one strolls, discovering its secrets. In these, one cannot experience the whole picture at once, but rather a series of ‘events’” (1990, n.p.).

If one wishes to speak of body art, we have here a beautiful example that proves that the body need not be altered (as is done in offensive practices, so fashionable today, such as piercing, tattooing, scarring, and the like) in an effort to beautify it. Her necklaces, when worn, do not assail the body’s sacredness, but become one with it, lending it their own moving grace and beauty.