how many is one 3

How many is one / Uriel Meron for Studio Magazine / Tel Aviv Museum / 2003

A narrow conveyor belt, like a miniature version of the one used for luggage at airports, rests on slim legs in the long, dimly lit space of the Jeanette Assia Galleries at the Tel Aviv Museum. It occupies most of the space and is laden with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of gold and silver items that are unrecognizable at first. They seem to travel their elliptical route a bit too slowly, but the more you concentrate on the details, the more it seems they aren’t moving slowly enough. Stools placed along the track allow the viewer to sit and observe the pieces at length without bending over. Three videos showing a close-up bird’s eye view of the items are projected side by side on the wall, close to the ceiling.

Deganit Stern Schocken’s exhibition, “How Many is One” (the beautiful catalogue was designed by Yael Burstein and Koby Levy), with its numerous details, occupies the space between art and design. The overpopulation, the plethora of details, doesn’t help in defining borders, but rather shows that the unoccupied territories, the fringe, spread into the core of both areas. This exhibition is rooted in unequivocally artistic considerations: a philosophical research and an exploration of form, and total devotion to the process. However, the area in which this research is taking place is undoubtedly design: jewelry design.

The topic of Stern Schocken’s research is jewelry that is mass produced (as opposed to hand-made one-of-a-kind). The basis of mass production is the ‘lost wax’ casting process, in which the item is created by casting wax in a reusable rubber mold. An important feature of the casting process is the Anguss – a little rod, a remainder, that is the result of pouring wax into the mold through a small conductor (Anguss in German, comes from Guss, meaning pouring, casting). Ordinarily, these remainders are cut off and recycled. There is no better way to explore and criticize the process of mass production than by interfering with the procedure and bringing forth the otherwise absent parts – essential to the process but removed from the finished product. This is Stern Schocken’s strategy. She interrupts the manufacturing process at the casting stage, which occurs only after the piece is designed. She interferes with the process and freeze-frames it at different stages, and then initiates a new multiplication process, which she might also decide to interfere with. Since her work process is so complex and intricate, I am only able to discuss its main elements here.

Her materials are ready-made parts of industrial jewelry: used (at times out of use) rubber molds, conductors, links, clasps etc. one can compare her research to the expansion of wax or metal within a mold – until the frame of the mold is ruptured. She made castings in rubber molds (among them small simple particles used to connect parts of the jewelry)

and simply left the Anguss attached and made them part of the new object. At the same time she poured wax into a rubber mold while the two halves were not sealed together, so that the wax leaked, creating a thin frame, an imprint of the mold-maker’s short, rhythmic chiseling when he cut it in half. At times, this imprint might look like a magnified 3-D version of the skin of the palm. Since we cant quite control the way the wax leaks, each one of these “leaked castings” is unique, and implies the standard rectangular frame of the mold, as well as the mold maker’s specific handprint (and not necessarily the designer’s). Additional conductors were attached to some of these products and new rubber molds were made. In dealing with casting as a means for multiplication, Stern Schocken expresses through the extreme a few basic aspects of the casting process. In observing the objects she created we experience the surplus, the excess that is the essence of every casting process. Casting is, in some ways, excess matter that is at once more and less than the original; more – because it is always secondary, always behind it, and less – for the very same reason. In the Lacanian use of the word, surplus is the aspect of “real” in every sense of the language. Every use of symbolism is over-signification: it will always contain more (and less) than the thing it symbolizes, forever signifying that very same aspect that can’t be communicated through language, and can’t be conceptualized. Stern Schocken’s castings illustrate this place, where we cannot distinguish

the mold from the matter, the “real” from the template. They show that the template, which is meant to impose form and meaning, actually symbolizes more than it is designed for, and furthermore, contains several components that go so far as to contradict its original purpose. In the process of producing industrial jewelry much of the initial casting (the conductors, the stems of the wax “tree” that is made for jewelry mass prduction) is disposed of, in order to get to the final product, the “complete” product. That is to say, the product is complete only when most of it is removed, or “suppressed”. According to this paradoxical reasoning, Stern Schocken’s “leaked castings”, which include all of the suppressed particles, will always look fragmented. The real Lacanian “whole” is always monstrous, composed of too many meanings. Consequently, it has no single, definite meaning.

The surplus and excess of the complete casting, the use of industrial waste and the choice to work with “dead” molds, expired either because the product is no longer in demand or because the rubber is worn out, are all evidence of an element of death that is at the heart of each casting. There is a process of expansion and contraction: the material expands until it reaches the borders that are externally set for it. In these pieces wax crossed these set boundaries and the outline of the object was determined when it cooled down and congealed. Precisely for that reason

the process results in an object that looks gnawed, bereft. The “leaked” pieces bear a resemblance to archeological findings, and even more so to paleontological findings (fossils), remnants of plants and living creatures that have merged with their mineral surroundings and require a meticulous procedure to separate them from the “mold” into which they were “cast”.

Stern Schocken uses not only the rubber mold which is part of the process of mass production, but also the products of that process: little anonymous industrial jewelry parts, intended for assembling a large variety of jewelry items, whose other parts were also produced in molds. In another part of her research she connects-accumulates dozens, and even hundreds, of identical items. This accumulation, like stacked spoons, dictates points of contact and form logic that has nothing to do with the function of the original item, a sequence of asymmetrical growth,
reminiscent of fractal biological augmentation. The new objects combine different shapes, similar to plants and corals with industrial-mechanical patterns of single items (a reference to the wax “tree” made in the final casting stage). These spores hold the potential of endless multiplication, and are therefore excess and deficit at the same time. Stern Schocken refutes the illusion of the complete, coherent product, by giving expression to the surplus behind every mass-produced piece.

The strongest sense of excess is communicated by the “trees” which are displayed at the end. She shows them in one piece, with all the wealth of “wasted” silver caged in the ordinarily recycled stems; the “fruits” hanging from these “trees” are Stern Schocken’s new creations. The huge amount of silver displayed here – in the viewer’s reach, rather than in glass-fronted display cabinets, as is the norm in jewelry exhibitions – is “scandalous” by jewelry-making standards. This is a pointed, critical move, meant to remove the aura of uniqueness and prestige from the products of mass production, and at the same time find beauty and mystery in the residues, the waste of that same industry.