Leather as sculptural material has been a crucial element in many of Lena Henke’s recent works. Besides its physical qualities, its conceptualization ties leather to the subject of the body and the bodily constitution of sculpture, themes crucial for Henke’s practice. Henke’s most recent leather drawings utilize leather also as a surface. Using a soldering pen, she irreversibly burns images into leather. Despite their bi-dimensional nature, these works, stretched on wooden panels, are characteristic of their sculptural quality. Their execution, based on the act of burning away, is reminiscent of wood carving, maintaining thus the work’s physical relation to sculpting; an element increasingly visible in Henke’s more recent works, where the lather surface is worked to the point of its partial destruction, allowing for profound plasticity of the depicted image.
Based on a mind map of Henke’s upcoming sculptural project inspired by St. Barbara, the patron of architecture and patron of the mines, Ladders To The Moon, 2021 can be perceived as the outcome of a conceptual process connecting a wide range of associations from (art) history, culture, architecture, sociology, and the artist’s personal memory. Reminiscent of a rear window view the burned drawing depicts an ambiguous image composed of a partial roof, a display structure for tiles, and sketched ladders in white color leaning towards the top of the “house”. The roof tile here functions as a reference to German architecture and its socio-political history and connects with Henke’s formative years spent in Germany. Moreover, the roof tile can be perceived as an architectural element associated with shelter and protection, shaping an immediate relation to the body and, in this case, its absence in the image. Its title, a nod to Georgia O’Keefe’s painting Ladders to the Moon from 1959, implies passages from one level to another, as several ladders lead the way to the top of an imagined house. A subversive force to the idea of structure associated with the architectural nature of the image, enhancing its dreamlike, and surreal nature.