Lena Henke, A hard shoulder I, 2024 / Courtesy of the artist / Photo: Kunst-Dokumentation.com
Lena Henke: Dark Glasses
Apr 11 – May 18, 2024
Wien, Austria

Lena Henke’s exhibition Dark Glasses at Layr, Vienna, continues the artist’s engagement with the complex power dynamics of identity and gender, interfacing with histories of art and architecture through appropriation, control, and submission. Taking its title from Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, (1978) withdrawing from a multiplicity of literary references to explore the whimsical phenomenon of love, the exhibition unfolds Henke’s fascination with design objects, industrial processes, and natural materials to investigate and subvert pre-set concepts juxtaposed with autobiographical references.

Engaging with the spatial features of the gallery as an architecture of potentialities, the artist confronts visitors already from the outside with three walls of tightly interlocked recycled tires visible through the former supermarket display windows. Titled A hard shoulder I, II, III, (2024) – a word-play mix-hinting at the emergency stopping lane on the outer side of the road and the body muscles either pressured or stuck by too much movement – the tires are interlocked almost to reach human height. Partially obstructing the view, the installation prompts child-like curiosity creating a peekaboo game of hide and seek. The recycled tires – an object dear to the artist’s sculptural vocabulary – present signs and traces of usage, the encounter with the street warning down their manufactured features. Collecting almost 200 of them, all used but cleaned on the occasion of the exhibition, Henke has decided to paint a single one in bright red, a target, a sign, and perhaps a visual punctuation. At closer inspection we realize the paint has leaked into the space, shading in red and black the nearby leather objects, drawings and other exhibited works. Tires for Henke unfold a dichotomy: on one side, they play in the artist’s memory as a tool to leave the rural part of Germany she is from – the car as a capitalistic symbol of emancipation and travel fantasy; on the other, these objects are exhausted commodities, their industrial circular cycle posing as a struggling body. Manifesting an accelerated present, as per Paul Virilio’s dromology idea, velocity and the tools to obtain it destroy space and compress time deforming our perception of reality.

[ . . . ]

The image of a car’s inner workings, photographed from underneath, is burned onto natural unprocessed leather. Henke, who has previously worked as a car photographer, decides to crawl under the machine – a very sensual act of submission – to portray her own car with a frontal gaze. A series of digitally reworked images of different blocks of tightly compressed car tires bound together by metal wire – framed before their journey to the recycling plants – serve as both visual material and inspiration. Quoting a series of sculptures featuring compressed car tires, recently exhibited as part of the exhibition Good Year at MARTa Museum Herford, Germany, Henke inquiries the conditions of gendered spaces, reflecting on the interplay between hard and malleable materials. Echoing notions of reproduction and appropriation, the work holds a revolutionary power: by positioning an image within an image while subverting the relationship between photography and sculpture it opens up new possibilities of representation and perception suspended between the mechanical and the subjective.    – Attila Fattori Franchini

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