In Lena Henke’s new Female Fatigue Series from 2022 (2015 – ongoing), Henke introduces three sculptures inspired by the planned Affirmation Tower in New York City, symbolic as it is enormous (1,663 feet tall and two million square feet large). If built, the tower would be the second tallest building in Manhattan after One World Trade Center. And it would be the first skyscraper built by a team of mostly female black architects, developers, lenders, and builders in New York City’s history.
Despite its ties with architecture, the work of Lena Henke is not limited to presentation or intervention in existing urban or architectural landscapes. Instead, it reveals itself by appropriating objects, urban situations, and psychological spatial constellations, constructing her own narratives. Henke explores a kind of intimacy with space unique to dense urban centers traversed on foot. In this new series, Henke’s abstracted -female figurines in gestures of opening and closing of the body, molded out of plaster, are nestled in metal sculptures that directly recall the sleek facades of Manhattan’s skyscrapers. The custom-made pedestals, made of black coated steel, modernity’s defining material, rise to the sky, mimicking the skyline of New York City. Suggestive of the cities hierarchization, the steel structures appropriate some of the formal characteristics of the Affirmation Tower, i.e. its emphasis on verticality and hard-edged, seamless steel structure reminiscent of razor blades, highlighting the rising nature of the piece and the violence of its forms.
The surfaces of the female figures appear to be crushed, made as a direct cast from tied and bonded tape, underlining the gestures of their falling movements, and are subject to constant renegotiation of its relationship with the structure. While the first of the three figures appears trapped inside the steel sculpture, its position’s dynamic and athletic nature is suggestive of movement, power, and strength. The second of the figures seems to be defeated, succumbing to the weight of the steel and hiding away. Finally, the third of the figures is depicted as liberated – celebratory, with open arms on top of a plinth, defeating the patriarchal history of architecture and urban landscape. The formal characteristic of Henke’s sculptures appropriates a language of modernity furthered in the athletic approach to the figure, generating through its choreography its non-verbal narrative. The female body becomes a symbol of resistance in a real estate economy based on inequality and exclusion.