how many is one 1

How many is one  / Meira Yagid-Haimovich / Tel Aviv Museum / 2003

‘How Many is One’ is an applied work model, a system that generates a succession of random changes, creates mutations from elementary metal particles. It is a work in a different rhythm – in terms of jewelry-time, almost computer animation. An adventurous journey to the unknown; reproductions as random as a pinball machine game. The works
are an accumulation of almost infinite possibilities, initiated by Deganit Stern Schocken’s exposure to the jewelry industry.

Through border breaking, through deviations from standard industrial work processes, she creates enigmatic works, silver casts that seem to belong to ancient times and places. Some of the works seem not to have been designed at all, but as fragments of something, fossils, traces, remnants from another culture; in others, the sense of uniqueness is the result of transformations created by various surface treatments – some of the surfaces present tribal tattoos of sorts, a decorative array of signs with no clear cultural reference. An idea has been developed here, resulting in the tectonic presence of the work surfaces. Decoration, in this context, is seen to create difference, uniqueness of form, separateness.

In 1916, the architect H. Tessenow wrote: “ornament is an unavoidable, unintended, therefore unconscious expression of things which architects do not want to show. Don’t they really?”

Stern Schocken intentionally produces ‘mistakes’, firmly fixing chance occurrences. In the process of casting her jewels, the drama of uncertainty takes place at the moment when the wax has been poured into the mold, as it turns from liquid to solid and overflows beyond its intended limits. This is the random moment, creating differences between the jewels that are unlike the industrial casting process. Further differences are created through treatments of the surface: painting, inlaying stones or buffing and polishing.

The lead actor in this process is the conductor, the anguss – the mediating channel through which the wax is injected into the rubber mold in order to create the jewel’s wax model – an umbilical cord of sorts, which it is customary to cut at the end of the ‘lost wax’ process of jewel casting. Here, the umbilical cord is uncut, remaining part of the work after it had fulfilled its original role as a mediator. The present project runs in two channels. The series ‘Anomalies’ includes works of decorative physiognomy created through deviations from form and breach of balance – the mistakes, the unexpected.

In his book Espèces d’espaces, George Perec wrote of dissolving space: “Space is like sand running through the fingers. It passes in time, leaving me with nothing but formless tatters”.  Is this decoration or imaginary decoration? These are not compositions inspired by botany or controlled geometry; the decoration of these works does not follow rules and principles from the Middle Ages, nor those or Art Nouveau.

The sense of decorativeness originates in the tactility of the surface, which was actually created through random, unplanned incisions in rubber molds by an artisan in a casting factory (molds originally intended for the casting of some item related to the jewelry industry – a fastener, for instance).

The second series, ‘Arrangements,’ includes compositions made by sequences and repetitions, like music. These works, bringing to mind sprouting, germination and reproduction, create a spatial order from particles – like an architecture of molecules. The elements are joined to each other in various degrees of density; two- and three-dimensional spatial structures that allow growth through the repetitive use of a basic element. It is an open-ended system that enables the construction of a structure that seems like living, breathing urban tissue.
At first sight, the project ‘How Many is One’ seems like a sharp change, a metamorphosis in Stern Schocken’s work. In fact, it is a continuation and a development of ideas that she has been preoccupied with for a long time, and is part of the structural chassis formulated beneath the surface of her work: one thing grows from another, toward a new creation. Like her former projects, the present one was also initiated in the artist’s reaction (to some trigger:

an event, a phenomena) – in this case, to the jewelry industry. Her work is concerned with three main issues: dealing with the question of borders and border transgressing, control and lack of control, through a grid; relationships and ties between people and objects, between people and situations, in the context of space; the tension between chance and intention, the dimension of arbitrariness in creation. In his book Notes sur le cinématographe, Robert Bresson enumerates ten qualities of the object, following Leonardo da Vinci3 – a conceptual framework that is relevant to an observation of Stern Schocken’s objects.

Lightness and Darkness

The poet Avot Yeshurun once wrote that the homeland of life is childhood, and leaving it behind is the beginning of the journey. “It all started when I was seven years old. My parents had left the house, and I spread all the threads, buttons and scissors on the floor,” tells Stern Schocken, “and then I lit a flashlight.”

Threads and twisting coils, open lines and circles are a leitmotif in her work. The threads ‘produce’ the ties, the connection between hand and gaze, between eyes and fingers. They function as the foundation, like a vanishing point of sorts in the observation of a physical-spatial axis system.

Color and Material

The artist moves between materials and ideas; the material in her work often serves as a conceptual conduit. Her materials are various types of stones, threads, words, fabrics, metals, plaster. She mixes them, disrupting presuppositions and images related to their status.

When participating in an exhibition in Padua on the subject of light, she inserted a diamond in one match out of a matchbox – a pocket-work of sorts. In another context, she inlaid a diamond in the tip of a paintbrush with a golden handle. In an exhibition in France on the subject of gold and medals, each participant was asked to work with five grams of gold; she tied her gold nugget with medal ribbons, baking molds, filing
stones and various threads.

In the 1990s, she created landscape brooches, territories (ponds and orchards) on silver surfaces – connecting the body to what lies outside it – using various types of stones, ribbons, gold, silver, stainless steel, copper, etc.

In the mid-90s she created the series ‘How Many are Four’ - works on paper addressing the tension between two- and three-dimensionality. She glued bits of gold and silver on Xerox photographs of objects, and blurred them with paint. She tells: “I found four tourmaline stones in a store…” – a translucent, precious stone, in which leaves may be seen. A stone is touch,

creation, eternity; she creates stones from fabric, ‘forms’ them from water, alternating the use of real stones with ‘pseudo-stones’. In the present project, the works are silver casts. Confronting mass production, she uses ‘classical’ casting material, while working it in ways that remove it from industrialized anonymity and endow each object with uniqueness and individuality.


Form and Stance

In Stern Schocken’s works there is tension between form and the lack of form. George Bataille coined the term informe (formless) as an opposition to form; Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois used the term as a conceptual conductor in an exhibition they curated at the Pompidou Center in Paris (‘Formless: A User’s Guide,’ 1996), comparing the informe as an operative move of constant movement, mixing, confusion and distortion to the formal modernist stance.

The early works of the 1980s, structural compositions dealing with movement and corporeal spatial signs, have evolved into spatial territorial analogies. She used threads as drawing-stitches on Xerox photographs, as miniature wall pictures and as grid-directed weaves in space; grasping at threads. In the installation Hopscotsch (1998, Kibbutz Nachshon Gallery) and in the installation Poubelle (Garbage Can) created with Ron Gilad (1999, in the trash room

of Office in Tel Aviv Gallery), the threads were compressed and became a dense web, allowing only a look from the outside.Her work first developed in the cultural climate of the jewelry world in the late 1970s, years of passage from an aesthetic view of jewelry design to an ideological, conceptual one. At the time, a few avant-garde galleries, mainly in Amsterdam but also in London and Munich, presented the works of several individualistic jewelry designers, most of them born in the 1940s, who breached the Pforzheim ethos (a town in Germany, near the Black Forest, that has been a jewelry making center since the 18th century). Their works demonstrated the provocative, intellectual and expressive potential in jewelry making. In their hands, jewelry became, among other things, a tool for social class criticism, challenging the representations of social class and using ‘low’ materials, and a means of addressing questions of identity, the body and symbolic contents.

Thus, for instance, Otto Künzli investigated ideas and materials in a blunt manner, at times ironic, shooting arrows at a restrained, courteous Swiss society while examining its symbols and icons (“Gold blinds you” on a box of chocolate, the Swiss gold). Gijs Bakker’s works are like ‘biting remarks’ on human desires and the objects that serve as their substitutes. He creates, in his own words, ‘anti-jewelry’; juxtaposing ‘low’ and ‘high,’ dismissing the use of valuable stones and clashing with the Catholic Church.

Around the same time, the collector and gallery owner Helen Drutt from Philadelphia presented avant-garde jewelry in the United States (including Stern Schocken’s works). In Israel, too, there was a conceptual breakthrough in the early 80s. It was led, among others, by Esther Knobel and Vered Kaminsky, and was also manifested in the Jewelry Department of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. Among the artists whose works show an affinity to Stern Schocken’s, one may mention Claus Bury, Georg Dobler and Giampaolo Babetto, whose creations are characterized by a sculptural, geometric presence and a preoccupation with proportions and scale. Babetto’s work evolved into minimalist mini-sculptures, and Bury created visual interpretations of architectural perspectives, influenced by the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism. However, it is probably Onno Boekhoudt’s approach, whose works – more fragments than jewels – sanctify the road and the search that reverberates in her work (his exhibition ‘Why Not Jewelry?’ was shown at the Israel Museum in 2000).

In a master-class he instructed in Edinburgh in 1999, he asked the participants to design jewelry for passersby. Stern Schocken’s work was from synthetic rubber that she crushed along its edges, blurring the stamped words (from a stamp she had used before): “This is my wall and it is cancelled.

” In that same year, participating in the project ‘Nations, Tolerance, Fashion,’ she designed (with Ron Gilad and Uri Shaviv) ‘How Many are Three,’ and in a jewelry design competition in Germany entitled ‘Thinking the Future’ she prepared badges for an imaginary convention – some of them with Xerox images of a hand or an ear, and some with a written word (Precious; Future; Silver; Gold) – that were attached to the lapel by a three-dimensional head made of silver or gold; in the future, she said, jewelry will be observation, word, thought.The works in the series ‘Anomalies’ look like fragments of something. They bring to mind fossils (nature’s casts); their surfaces, created through the inclusion of anomaly in their creation process, are not identified with the duplicates of mass production. The works in the series ‘Arrangements,’ like Bataille’s informe, confront the wish to endow reality with form, with mathematical clothing. In both series, the emphasis is on an open, dynamic process.

Distance and Proximity

Distances and borders, physical and metaphoric, were the subject of the installation “Rachel Spectator” (created with Francis Nordemann) at the Office in Tel Aviv Gallery (1995). The installation dealt with the breaking walls of privacy, with restricted space and the range between eye and object, while creating a private, intimate space of sorts on the wall.

The one-person show “Replacements,” exhibited at Ra Gallery in Amsterdam (1996) was developed a year later at Periscope Gallery in Tel Aviv into an indexical installation of ‘Stern Schocken’s dictionary.’ A variety of works formerly presented elsewhere in different contexts – territories, private road-signs – were placed like fragments on top of six urban fractions: maps of urban construction plans, 1:1250. The point of view, from above, enabled the viewer to observe the items while physically moving around them.

Mobility and Immobility

Fear of stasis is a leitmotif in Stern Schocken’s work. Since the 1980s, she has designed jewelry that is miniature sculpture in motion, its various axes enabling it to be worn in several ways. Other works seem like events that take place on a twisting line along both sides of the body, and yet others refer to urban space. In ‘Xerox Works’ she created a brooch jigsaw puzzle of sorts out of Xerox images of urban maps, in the series ‘Pools’ she made paint puddles, ‘inlaid water,’ on the bottom of miniature silver pools, and schematic baking molds turned in her hands into a swing-pendant. In the installation Hopscotch she threw a stone on the grid squares and moved along them while keeping her balance. Many of the works – ‘Pools,’ ‘Landscapes,’ animal shaped baking molds – were made in pairs; the difference within each pair is infinitesimal, a nuance.

In ‘How Many is One’ a conveyor belt moves the works; the spectator is led into observation in constant movement. The ‘One’ is always a plurality, always in motion.

What is the ‘One’ of which Stern Schocken inquires “How Many”? Is it works, or anything but jewelry? In the chance play of her jewelry, the ‘One’ is always ‘Many’; however, it is impossible to know whether it is through the disintegration of the whole or through growth and reproduction. In her own words: “There is no ‘One’ and there are no ‘Many’ – it is always the tension between them.”