"I wonder if you could have a heart attack from the emotional intensity of being a mother? "

Lena Henke

"I wonder if you could have a heart attack from the emotional intensity of being a mother? ", 2022

The motive of the Lilly Pad first appeared in the practice of Lena Henke in 2016 as part of her exhibition at S.A.L.T.S Kunsteverein in Basel. Connecting these floor and wall sculptures closely with the modernist landscape architecture of Roberto Burle Marx, an essential reference for Henke’s practice at the time, the Lilly Pad became a symbol of urban nature but also, and most importantly, one of the first examples of introducing the theme of water into Henke’s practice. Water, a symbol of life and growth, has occupied an increasingly important role, especially in the artist’s more recent works, connected to the body’s fetishization, memory, childhood, and, most recently, also the theme of birth.

Despite remaining faithful to the previously worked formal characteristics of the Lilly Pad and its ties with water, Henke’s approach has shifted. By moving the sculpture exclusively to the wall, Henke changes the perception of the work. What used to be a horizontal plant, suggestive of landscape, now resembles a pie chart, a statistical tool depicting an economy of numerical proportion through its frontal position and fragmentation into halves, quarters, and slices. With their titles closely tied to the psychological and physical aspects of pregnancy, labor, birth, and post-partum, the series carries a profoundly personal undertone, with references to childbirth’s bodily and emotional experience. The chosen color palette referential of water, blood, milk, scars, and life symbolizes the act of labor and the physical transformation this implies. The detailed structure of each Lilly Pad, reminiscent of veins, is emphasized by its glaze’s shiny surface, concealing the pain, the trauma, and the scars. By locking these themes within the sleekness of the works, the Lilly Pads point to the aestheticization of birth, the historical concealment of labor within western society, and the fetishization of the female body throughout history.

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.