Urban Jewellery Events : the work of Deganit Stern-Schocken


Writing about the oeuvre of Deganit Stern-Schocken’s practice, 40 years of installations, sculptures texts and jewellery is like taking a walk in a big interesting city. I have visited this place before of course, seen the highlights, but now I am to live here for a few months and record my experience. This work is an urban construction, concept based, and punctuated by all these Events: Function as Expression, Thinking the Future, Eye of Infinity, Figure of Speech, Dead Sea, Smashed Cans, Rachel: Spectator, Animals. That’s just a small selection.

Events are not static. Events embrace place and action. Events are networks of materials and communication. They have a locus, in the analogue world, a Site.

I’m walking in this city of Events, finding their locations, their histories, searching out their rationale. My dear old friend de Certeau reminds me:

“It is true that operations of walking can be traced on city maps in such a way as to transcribe their paths and their trajectories. But these thick or thin curves only refer, like words, to the absence of what has passed by. Surveys of routes miss what was: the act itself of passing by. The operation of walking, … is transformed into points that draw a totalizing and reversible line on the map. Itself visible, it has the effect of making invisible the operation that made it possible. These fixations constitute procedures for forgetting. The trace left behind is substituted for the practice. It exhibits the (voracious) property that the geographical system has of being able to transform action into legibility, but in doing so it causes a way of being in the world to be forgotten”.[1] 

And there we have it. This is not a prescribed path to follow with the eye. Action and interaction drive the experience. The body becomes a cityscape, marked out and punctuated by jewellery Events that are portals into ideas. Engineered elements from the very beginning become communication tools, speaking to me from the site of the wearer. Body is City. Function is Expression.

Scanning the surface I find a deliberateness in the scores and notches. All the preconditions of considered construction. I look for sprayed marks – there are none – maybe that is work not yet made, work to come. A delivery of spray cans has been delayed. But there is a box of unfamiliar tools, elements made with purpose strewn around this city-body. What are they for? How can I fit that use into what I know? This is often not possible, for I am provided with fragments, things are missing. I return again and again, until I realise that I am the solution, I am the body that completes the whole. I complete the work by putting it on. It is after all often jewellery. De Certeau had tried to explain, it is the activity, the act that is not on the map! Chains, bars, eyelets, cards, links ask me to experiment with them – this long rod on the chain could pass through this hole in the plate, and then I could use the piece in this way. Tools and portals for my city-body of Event/Sites.

I couldn’t visit “Rachel, Spectator”.[2] Not because of the Virus, but because the event was before my time. But I have the data; images, words. I discover a delicate site, archaeology in process, intimacy, people interpreting what has happened. I see tools were provided at the time to assist in finding the necessary information. There are memories contained in fragments. I ask whose stories? Whose things? What do they mean? Why were they left behind? What can we learn from them? Like entering something sacred, fragile and once discovered vulnerable, a complete experience. Art functions not through the eyes alone, but through the complete activity of experience.

I also understand “function as expression”[3] in these Event/Sites, although the phrase came from another event – the workings exposed beneath the smooth surface – the rafters and braces – everything that holds up the facade exposed. I experience the paradox in the data of “Rachel, Spectator”. The intimacy laid bare, the sacred site open for analysis. The parallels between other jewellery works are apparent and confirmed by Deganit’s own words:

“Jewel-making … contains layers of cultural memory, time, and distance that can bring us immediately closer not only to the private, the physical, the most personal experience, but also to the social space, the community, and the hidden and overt places in the centre of human existence and experience.”[4]

There is a tight connection between archaeology and jewellery as evidence of cultural history.

Architecture, Engineering and the Body

Without a doubt this work shows traces of earlier studies in architecture, reinforced by a genealogical architectural map of connections spanning time, space.[5] Deganit describes this relationship:

“Brooches by themselves are seen as isolated buildings defined in terms of their dimensions and their relationship to their surroundings. … Like streets they form a network – the city! Jewellery is spread on the body, its earth.”[6]

I encounter frames. I like frames, what they do. That selective device, now ubiquitous as we go about photographing every blade of grass. Frames are the basic condition of all architecture, the device to separate inside and outside, what we trap, collect, contain, present and protect. They create territory.

To better understand this device I turned to Elizabeth Gross who interprets the emergence of the frame as “the condition of all the arts and the particular contribution of architecture to taming the virtual, the territorialization of the uncontrollable forces of the earth. … With no frame or boundary there can be no territory, and without territory there may be objects or things but not qualities that can become expressive, that can intensify and transform living bodies.”[7]

These works are frames for fastening my own experience, filtered though with manipulative triggers of the artists design. The use of frames connects to architectural thinking. They hang from chains, are pinned to the torso or slip around fingers. Gross elaborates on the function ” the frame separates. … This cutting of the space of the earth through the fabrication of the frame is the very gesture that composes both house and territory, inside and outside, interior and landscape at once and as the points of maximum variation, the two sides, of the space of the earth..”[8]


In architecture no material is perhaps more pervasive that air. We move from the frame to the void. I encounter space at these Event/Sites as it traces around the words and around the body. What is not there allows movement and functionality. And then there is everything else, petrified wood, plastic signs, trapped instructions, threads, text, pearls, stones, hanging suspended or up in the air! Suddenly too the surprize of decorated porcelain. The rational is not always accessible and so makes us engage with the question of functionality because of this opacity – not giving up comforting answers to what it is for and how it works.

Materials and their histories, where things come from and are then situated, create meaning. Soda cans from Kalandia checkpoint set with diamonds and inscriptions build layers of information. Using a mass produced discarded product as the main actor brings me to Walter Benjamin’s description in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction “one thing stands out: the here and now of the work of art – its unique existence in the place where it is at this moment … That includes not only the changes that it has undergone in its physical structure over the course of time; it also includes the fluctuating conditions of ownership through which it has passed.”[9] When we work with this idea to consider the production of the generic objects used in some of Deganit’s works, paralleled with the specificity of the location of their collection and then the artists intervention, the intent becomes clear. As with everything we touch that has been manufactured or that we buy or collect, we must ask ourselves at what cost, at whose misery or pleasure. To use the old Donna Harraway idiom, “With whose blood are our eyes crafted?”  Donna reminds us “Vision is always a question of the power to see – and perhaps of the violence implicit in our visualising practices.”[10]

Language and Symbols

On my walks words and signs pervasive to the cityscape are encountered at the Event/Sites. Pictograms try and teach me things, arcane symbols appear, among them my beloved infinity. How am I expected to interpret them? Recognisable signs from everyday life lure me with a sense of recognition but these other acerbic marks lead to a state of confusion, like navigating a new foreign city. Clearly there is a subversion of how the diagram should have been originally understood. This is the framework for the artists desire to give an alternative story. De Certeau appears again with his own questions and interpretations: “What is it then that they spell out? Disposed in constellations that hierarchize and semantically order the surface of the city, operating chronological arrangements and historical justifications, these words … slowly lose, like worn coins, the value engraved on them, … these names make themselves available to the diverse meanings given to them by passers by …”[11]

The use of words define these Event/Sites as communication platforms – portals that expose a way of navigating the world by latching onto what we know and moving out from there. When there are only fragments to guide us we fill in the space left with our own culturally defined experience. Deganit reminds us what that can mean:

“in our endeavor to comprehend a thing, one of the things we do is name it. It seems as if naming a thing is like creating it. … Once we name something we expect it to be one specific thing and not any other.”[12]

A pertinent reminder of the danger implicit in categorising.


As my walk comes to an end, I remark that often my paths of understanding are obstructed by this unfamiliar combination of clear signs, strange materials, engineering and archaic symbols that I encounter along the way. There is stuff here I know but I am at times left with a sense of uncertainty. It dawns upon me having walked all night, that light creates silhouettes of all the structures. The space is there for me to fill in with my own story. I complete the Event/Sites with my presence, my interpretation, my body. The fragmentary nature of Deganit’s work leaves space for mystery and questions, space for me to reside.

Deganit confirms this when she writes of an “an attempt to join different places; to create a territory: to integrate and interrogate a city. Jewellery is a replacement, an attempt to organize fragments so as to emphasize the process which will keep the fragmentary as the principle of organization.”[13]

The fragments from diverse locations create a new story, a new telling of history, non linear, intersectional. Stuff is laid out like a mapped archaeological site, industrial though and paradoxically contemporary. These Event/Sites on body-cities are crossing points. The relevance of the geographical and historical position of things taken and made will continue to illuminate my path, and yours as well. Enjoy your walk.

Helen Britton  January – April 2020

[1] Michel de Certeau, “The Practice of Everyday Life”, University of Callifornia Press, pg 97, 1984

[2] Deganit Stern Schocken, Francis Nordman, Rachel Sukman’s Office,Tel Aviv, 1994

[3] Deganit Stern-Schocken, “Function as Expression”, 1980

[4] Deganit Stern- Schocken, “Beaten Gold / Industry” ?

[5] Deganit Studied design and architecture at Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem. One of her first papers was on Mendelson. Her great Uncle Robert Stern was a well- known architect in Köln.

[6] Deganit Stern-Schocken “Urban Jewellery:The Body as City” 16.05.00

[7] Elizabeth Gross “Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth”, Columbia University Press, pg 11, 2008

[8] ibid pg 13

[9] Walter Benjamin “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” Penguin Books, 1936, pg 5

[10] Donna J. Haraway “Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature” Free Association Books, 1991, pg 192

[11] Michel de Certeau, ibid, pg 104

[12] Deganit Stern-Schocken, “Tracing the Beaten Gold or Whats in a Name?”

[13] Deganit Stern-Schocken, “Re-Place-Ments”

Published in “How Many is One” 2021 Arnoldsche ISBN 978 389790 6075