Lena Henke at SALTS / Birsfelden

Lena Henke
My history of flow

curated by Anna Goetz

Hauptstrasse 12
CH–4127 Birsfelden
16 June – 28 August 2016

Lena Henke has developed a diverse body of sculptural works, often arranged
in comprehensive spatial installations. Henke’s work references urban planning,
Land Art, human relationships, sexuality and fetishism, consistently infiltrating
the patriarchal structure of art history with a very smart and humorous tone. Her
formal language and use of materials often alludes to Minimal Art combined
vividly with Surrealist imagery.
For her first solo-show in Switzerland the artist has created a completely new
body of work inspired by research into two separate systems of architecture and
utility. The first, a catalogue of utopic outdoor sites since the 16th century–some
of which still exist, others forgotten or never realized. The second, an extensive
look into New York’s water shed system and the flow of water from the Catskills
to the five boroughs. Henke has crafted her vision of their combination and
reproduced New York’s famous skyline symbol, the water tank as well as various
smaller ceramic sculptures.
The research into these systems was conducted during vast field trips across
Europe and the US. Henke and curator Anna Goetz followed the tracks of artists
pursuing radical approaches to garden and landscape planning far off from
urban structures as reference.
Water is the central element of the show, changing the interior and exterior
architecture of SALTS’ exhibition space into a comprehensive immersive sculpture.
An actual-size wooden water tank sits on top of a massive plinth-like cube
between urban courtyard and wild garden. With a simple, but consequent spatial
intervention Henke tilted the inside of the space as well as the water tank at an
angle of four-degrees. The sloped floor and the tilted back wall force the water
to flow through the space, puddling at the low points until a threshold is reached
and the water can return outside. Formally, Henke has consciously altered the
inside space to be in direct contrast with the lush garden. The result is an extremely
artificial aesthetic where white ceiling, walls and floor seemingly merge
into the mist.
The water used in the show is a direct reference to the historic water supply system
of the Basel (which manifests throughout the city with majestic fountains).
Henke connected the water tank to the nearby river Birs. The water is lead from
the river up through the garden, into the water tank and from there, downwards
into the exhibition space. Inside, colourful ceramic lily pads are loosely arranged
on the wet floor and walls. The mulberry glazed ceramic object is a miniature of
Pier Francesco Orsini, Leaning House, 1552. Although it may not be clear at first,
Henke’s Mulberry House after Orsini is the only thing in the show that stands
Orsini’s sculptural garden projects didn’t use urban architecture as reference.
In Henke’s constructed system, space is just as confusing. The monumental
and the miniature are mixed up. Henke’s Mulberry House after Orsini seems to
be the focal point for this confusion. Each LilyPad after Roberto Burle Marx are
enormous when compared with the miniaturized Leaning House. In turn, the
perception of space changes from small to large when the Mulberry House after
Orsini is in view. SALTS’ outside venue is a small exhibition space but a large
plinth fro the New York water tower.
Images courtesy the artist and SALTS
photos: Gunar Meier