Centering the house

Lena Henke

Centering the house, 2021

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 of the mines, Centering the house, 2021 can be perceived as the outcome of a conceptual process connecting a wide range of associations from (art) history, architecture,  eroticism, as well as the artist personal memory and past work. With pairs of feet and their fragments as the central motive of the drawing, the work echoes the artist’s interest in the subject of the fetish. The foot here can be understood as a symbol of desire, pleasure, but also as a support structure for the body, thus emphasizing the architectural connotation of the work, furthered by a horizontal structure in the center of the work: a platform made from roof tiles. The roof structure here is approached as an inverted floor, a surface to walk on and pervades references of German architecture and history. The female figure borrowed from one of Henke’s grafical mind maps stands on the “roof-floor” can be perceived as a symbol of female empowerment and a reference to the crush fetish, where sexual arousal is associated with observing objects being crushed or being crushed oneself. The act of trample is emphasized here by the colorful worm crawling towards the spectator while at the same time being crushed and distorted by a giant toe, furthering the ambiguous, uncanny and surreal nature of the work.

Lena Henke has exhibited at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, Germany (2019); Whitney Museum of Art, New York, (2018); Bard Hessel Museum, New York, (2018); Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland, (2018); Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt em Main, Germanny, (2017); Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany (2017); Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, USA, (2017); Timisoara Contemporary Art Biennale, Romania, (2017); S.A.L.T.S., Basel, Switzerland, (2016), Kunstverein Braunschweig, Braunschweig, Germany, (2016); Manifesta 11, Zurich, (2016); The 9th; Berlin Biennale, Berlin, Germany (2016); Le Biennale de MONTREAL, Montreal, Canada, (2016); Kunstverein Braunschweig, Braunschweig, Germany (2016); Triennale of Small Scale Sculpture, Fellbach, Germany (2016); The New Museums Triennial, New Museum, New York, (2015); Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, (2015); New Museum, New York (2015); Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland (2014); White Flag Projects, St. Louis, USA, (2014); Sculpture Museum Glaskasten, Marl, Germany, (2014); Kuenstlerhaus Graz, Graz, Austria (2014); Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, USA, (2013); Kunstverein Aachen, Germany (2012), among other. In 2019 Henke received the RUBENSFÖRDERPREIS der Stadt SIEGEN and the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen held a survey exhibition of Lena Henke’s work, summarizing the past ten years of her practice. In the same year, Henke was awarded the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant.