how many is one 2

How many is one - Negative Work / IItzik Carmel / Tel Aviv Museum / 2003

‘How many is one?’ is a Zen question aimed at inducing negative work, placing the terms ‘many’ and ‘one’ in constant tension. The apparently psychological answer, ‘more or less,’ preserves the opposition between the terms, signifying the positive (more, a lot) and the negative (less, but not empty) and the work that is carried out between them. The answer is also related to an encounter with reality, a compromise, an interim road raked by the Zen master as he meditatively repeats the same action, over and over again.
   At the beginning of the 20th century, psychoanalyst Otto Rank tried to answer the question through the notion of ‘a couple.’ The ‘one’ arouses a feeling of loneliness, while the ‘many,’ the crowd, arouses fear of assimilation, of being absorbed, fear of death. The interim road between these two anxieties is taken through a relationship between ‘a couple,’ easing loneliness and presenting a solution (biological or creative, even artistic) to the fear of death. Lack, the negative, drives us to form a relationship; in loneliness, the question ‘how many is one?’ is also the answer, accompanied perhaps by a soft sigh, emitted air – a concretization of vitality.

Negative work is expressed not only in the name that Deganit Stern Schocken gave her works; A preoccupation with the negative is also their main characteristic. The conductor, the anguss, is the redundant part, the ‘negative’ with which a jewel – the ‘positive’ – is cast. A jewel cannot be cast without it, but once it had been cast it is no longer necessary. Stern Schocken’s works are objects constructed through a multiplication of the anguss; in them, the ‘negative’, the unnecessary (the forbidden?) becomes a positive object. They may be seen as anti-jewelry, like Deleuze and Guattari’s anti-Oedipus or Andre Green’s negative Oedipus.

  Claude Lévi-Strauss regarded jewelry as a refinement of women’s status as objects, slaves, possessions: the necklace’s origin is in the slave’s collar, bracelets were originally fetters, and earrings were used to pierce the ears of slaves who chose to remain with their master to the end of their lives. Indeed, radical feminism renounces such adornments.

The brooch is different. In the dialogue between the body and the self, between skin and garment, it is not placed on the skin and certainly not in it (like earrings or piercing), but on the secondary, cultural skin – the garment, mediating between the body and its surroundings. The brooch is a jewel that safeguards feminine identity; mostly, it is worn near the breasts or between them.

Feminine and masculine adornments – while the woman wears a brooch, the man wears a medal on his chest (often phallically shaped: a long ribbon ending with a coin-circle) or military insignia – are objects that focus the other’s gaze, forming relationships of power and desire. They do not enable eye contact – a primary condition for the establishment of human relationships (like the eye contact between mother and child).
They make one gaze down- or upwards (like a royal crown). Jewelry’s placement on the body directs the other’s gaze to a specific place in the body’s geography. Making the anguss an integral part of the ‘positive’ jewelry – the yearned for ‘Is’ – brings to light (to the gaze) the necessary conditions for their casting, the ‘remainders’ without which they have no existence. Thus value is also given to women, culturally viewed as the ‘means one cannot do without,’ who find themselves ‘redundant’, who are measured as adornments, objects of desire and possessions.

 Stern Schocken’s negative jewelry is a post-Oedipal attempt to break free of bondage connotations, representations of possession and the marking of a sexual object. The aesthetics do not suffer, and the connection to beauty is not eliminated when jewelry no longer represents an object of erotic or aggressive desire. These works seem to be created from what is not jewelry. They are constructed from a combination of things that have become redundant in the process of the work’s growth, from remainders.

The objects are made of ready-made parts: countless combination of
jewelry sprouts or seeds; their combination, collection, composition into a new form creates the work out of that which cannot be created. This act blurs the distinction between what is ‘central’ (the cast jewelry,the guss) and what is ‘insignificant’ (the remainder, the anguss). That blurring is strengthened by the anomaly – the material that ‘escapes’ during the casting process, the mistake, the ‘failure’. According to Heinz Kohut, the therapist’s authentic empathic failure is a necessary condition for progress in the therapeutic relationship, as well as for any authentic inter-personal relationship. Stern Schocken enables the anomaly, allows it to exist. In mistakes there is free flow without a mold, and therein lies their value: the creation of non-reproducible individuality. Both the obsessive repetitiousness of the anguss and anomaly contribute to ‘the fertility of the negative’ (Green’s term). Repetitiousness has a similar role in the development of infants: over time, the multiple repetitions of one meaningless act render it meaningful, an ‘Is’ that serves to construct the self and the other. Space and location play a part in negative work.

The works are not presented on clothes or on persons, but on a conveyor belt that endows them with movement, life; there is no movement in death. The viewer sits on a chair facing a ‘bar,’ and the works become the first object of desire, the first signifier of relationships – food – as it is manifested in a cultural space: a restaurant, a museum.

Through negative aesthetics, the emphasis shifts from crafts – where the ornamental value is determined by the type of metal, the precious stones and the complexity of the artist’s work – to art.

According to Green, creation begins when the subject consents to a transaction between consciousness and denial, declaration and negation, oppression and idealization – inducing the creation of appearances that are viewed as real and are the origin of artistic reality. Green, who addressed the function of the negative in mental development, was familiar with the term coined by Keats to describe Shakespeare’s work – ‘negative capability’.
The works are similar and yet different from each other. They become individualized through paint, inlaid stones, varying sizes and arrangements, crushing and firing. The processing of the one as many is like sand upon the beach. While the creation of the universe begins in space (ordering chaos), continues with the body (the creation of man) and ends with name bestowal, Stern Schocken’s negative work takes the opposite route: the name leads to the object, which defines space.

Nietzsche believed that by peeling off personality layers, we risk ending up with nothing except a pile of dry husks; that in the process of peeling, personality itself will disappear.

Stern Schocken counters Nietzsche’s pessimism by spreading the husks in front of the viewer for observation. Constant repetition, such as the preservation of the anguss, creates a process of learning; it is a condition for the self ’s creation, but also the route to its loss.

Stern Schocken invites us to experience negative work: to observe the necessity of the negative, without which the positive may become diminished to the point of an ‘anorexic life’ (Green’s term), leaving us only with worthless husks; to authentically encounter the loneliness created by the negative in an anti-jewel, which is an artistic object of symbolic value that provides an answer to solitude.