Lena Henke at Klosterfelde Edition / Berlin

Lena Henke / Auf dem Asphalt botanisieren gehen

April 30 to July 30, 2022

Klosterfelde Edition, Potsdamer Str. 97, 10785 Berlin

Photos: Silke Briel, © Klosterfelde Edition & Lena Henke

Throughout her
practice, Lena Henke produces sculptures and installations that intimately
recast histories of modernism, design, and urban planning. Her process begins
with research into the physical spaces in which she lives, works, and exhibits
her artworks. Henke’s engagements with site-specificity result in sculptures
whose often appropriated forms are at once rigorous and flirtatious. Her works
challenge the patriarchal legacies of modern culture while bringing the lived
experiences of gender to their surfaces. For the past decade, Henke has
produced a body of work that explores her personal relation to the architecture
and urban design of New York City, where she has continuously lived and worked.

For her exhibition
at Klosterfelde Edition, Henke shifts her geographic focus to the urban space
of Berlin, where she has temporarily relocated. Henke’s new set of sculptures
excavates the local histories and household artefacts of the Hansaviertel, a
neighborhood comprised of postwar modernist social housing where the artist’s
studio is currently located.

Situated between
the Tiergarten and the River Spree, the Hansaviertel was once a densely
inhabited area with a strong Jewish presence, before being reduced to rubble in
World War II. Amid postwar efforts to reconstruct derelict neighborhoods and
address housing shortages, West Berlin organized the Internationale
(Interbau) in 1957, in which the top architects of the
time— Walter Gropius, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, Werner Düttmann, Le
Corbusier, and others—were commissioned to redesign the Hansaviertel. At the
core of the Hansaviertel project was an attempt to reshape postwar life through
architecture, technology, and the city’s nature. The crisp geometries of new
modernist apartments opened onto the Tiergarten’s Stadtgrün, while their
interiors were fitted with the latest technologies like underfloor heating and
rubbish chutes. The new urban district embodied Cold War aesthetic ideologies,
as modernist design served the Western Bloc’s democratic and capitalist ideals.
As then Chancellor Konrad Adenauer announced at the time, the Hansaviertel
“expresses a connection to the people of the free world.”[1]
Through collaboration with international proponents of modernist design to
rebuild what the war destroyed, the Hansaviertel was framed as West Berlin’s
architectural emancipation from its Nazi past into the foundations of a
liberated society.

While looking at
archival photographs of Hansaviertel apartments, Henke noticed two recurring
features. She observed Braun appliances in numerous interiors, which evoked
distant memories of growing up around Braun products in West Germany. Under the
direction of the renowned designer Dieter Rams, Braun manufactured fashionable
household products whose innovative designs revamped postwar domestic life. In
1957, Braun participated in Interbau; of the model apartments on view in the
Hansaviertel, sixty percent were furnished with Braun products.[2]
What united Braun and the Hansaviertel was their shared renewal of modernism in
postwar design. The politics of this return was exemplified by Ram’s oft-cited
design principle, “Back to purity, back

to simplicity!” In equipping domestic
spaces with sleek surfaces and functional forms, both Braun and the
Hansaviertel sought to expunge post-fascist society with a return to aesthetic
simplicity and moral purity. The new apartments and appliances forged
blueprints for new ways of living, laboring, and consuming, with technologies
of the future at the center of the home.

Henke additionally
noticed an awkwardness around kitchen spaces in photographs of Hansaviertel
apartments. Minimal and narrow, these kitchens often included a retractable
curtain, which provided a backdrop to the leisure space of the living room
while hiding the kitchen’s gendered labor. For Henke, these concealable
kitchens illustrated the power relations of male architects dictating women’s
domestic labor through design, rendering their housework and care work
invisible. And unsurprisingly for the time, the protagonist designers of the
Hansaviertel and Braun were all men. A decade later, the feminist movement of
the 1970s took aim at the kitchen by challenging the patriarchal alignment of
women with the domestic realm, as evident in artworks such as Martha Rosler’s Semiotics
of the Kitchen
(1975). In her manifesto for the renumeration of women’s
housework, Silvia Federici diagnosed the problem of feminism as “how to bring
this struggle out of the kitchen and into the streets.”[3]
In Auf dem Asphalt botanisieren gehen [“To go botanizing on the
asphalt”], Lena Henke examines how long histories of design continue to affect
gendered experiences of labor and urban space, from the perspective of kitchen
appliances appropriated and reproduced into a sculptural scenography.

To compose her
new series of sculptures on view, Henke digitally reworked four iconic Braun
appliances of the postwar era: the KM 3 “Küchenmaschine” stand mixer (1957),
the MX 3 mixer (1958), the MPZ 2 “Citromatic” citrus press (1972), and the KF
20 “Aromaster” coffee machine (1972).[4]
Each sculptural edition is complemented by the artist’s custom-designed
packaging of black carton boxes with individual labels, installed on the
counter and shelving adjacent to the gallery’s entrance. The sculptures’ colors
are derived from vintage Braun advertisements, while their skin-like rubber
surfaces emphasize the appliances’ biomorphic shapes. Henke has retained the
physical glitches that occur in the 3D printing process, which materialize on
the sculptures as drips, leaks, and overflows. Upon closer inspection, the
appliances appear as bodies on the verge of spilling over, their tumescent
forms threatening the integrity of their modernist design. In her installation
of the sculptures, Henke engages with the physical site of Klosterfelde Edition
and its surrounding environs of Potsdamer Straße. The space was originally a
lived-in apartment. It was converted into a stationary store, and ultimately a gallery,
through the removal of half a floor, which provided a street-level entrance
while expanding the height of the narrow space. Henke has repeated a parallel
gesture by enlarging her appliance sculptures 1.5 times the size of the Braun
originals. Through digitally resizing the kitchen devices, Henke emphasizes
their modernist architectural, building-like forms while undermining their
domestic functionality; they become solid objects, too big to be used.

Henke has
arranged the appliance sculptures on a ramp descending from the small room at
the back of the gallery, which was formerly a kitchen. The ramp is covered in
green linoleum, a material frequently used for postwar kitchen floors. The ramp
extends from the gallery’s former kitchen toward the street, conjuring feminist
political entanglements of the personal and public realm. The installation
stages further relations to the sidewalk, as if the appliances were
architectural models atop a city block. Henke has excerpted the exhibition’s title
Auf dem Asphalt botanisieren gehen from

Walter Benjamin’s Das Passagenwerk [The
Arcades Project
] (1927-1940), in which Benjamin characterizes the figure of
the flâneur as an urban wanderer who “goes botanizing on the asphalt.”[5]
While “botanizing on the asphalt” recalls the Hansaviertel’s intermixing
of concrete architecture and the Tiergarten’s nature, the title further
excavates the history of pedestrian movement on Potsdamer Straße, a heavily
trafficked street associated with the flânerie surrounding theater, entertainment,
nightlife, and prostitution in both prewar and contemporary Berlin. Henke
invokes the specters of Potsdamer Straße’s layered histories by installing a
red-tinted spotlight, whose roving light beam shines from the gallery’s former
kitchen space on the appliance sculptures, the exhibition viewers, and onto the
street. Conjoining domestic interiors and urban publics by imaginatively navigating
across Berlin’s pasts and present, Henke’s Auf dem Asphalt botanisieren
subtly unearths the gendered exclusions of labor and care, that lie
beneath the collective fantasies of reinhabiting shared space and returning to
so-called normal life.

Text by Carlos Kong

Please contact Alfons Klosterfelde for any enquiries.


With kind support by Bortolami, New York; Layr,
Vienna and Pedro Cera, Lisbon.

A new publication will accompany the exhibition and be launched this fall. Realized
with support of the Berlin Senate.

[1] Interbau Berlin 1957. Amtlicher Katalog
der Internationalen Bauaustellung Berlin 1957
p. 14.

[2] Klaus Kemp and Keiko Ueki-Polet (ed.), Less
and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Ram
(Berlin: Die Gestalten Verlag,
2009), p. 351.

[3] Silvia
Federici, Wages Against Housework (Power of Women Collective and Falling
Wall Press, 1975), p. 4.

[4] Klaus Kemp. Dieter Rams.
(Berlin: Phaidon Verlag, 2020).

[5] Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte
, Vol. I.2 (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1983), p. 538.