The sculptor Lena Henke transforms the SCHIRN rotunda into a changing spatial sculpture in which interior and exterior merge.

From April 28 to July 30, 2017, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt is presenting a spatial sculpture by the artist Lena Henke. In the work specially created for the Schirn Rotunda entitled Schrei mich nicht an, Krieger! (Don’t Shout at Me, Warrior!), the sculptor reacts to the specific conditions of this freely accessible public space. Henke sees the Rotunda as a space in which interior and exterior merge in a very distinct way—as the entrance to the Schirn, as an exhibition space, and as an element of urban architecture between the Cathedral and the Römer. In her installation Henke concentrates on this ambivalent capacity of the space, thereby creating an awareness of the unique character of the location.

In the two opposing entrances to the Rotunda, the artist positions two aluminium sculptures that are open at the top and filled with sand. It is not clear at first how this sand came to be in and on top of the objects. Henke guides the viewer’s gaze through a system of colors, which accentuates the architecture upwards to the open windows of the circular galleries surrounding the Rotunda. There sand is also placed and trickles outwards and into the sculptures through coarse-meshed metal rolling grills.

An unpleasant feeling

The visitors can stroll round the galleries and walk through the sand, hence influencing the circulation as well. At the same time, from up there the form of the objects in the Rotunda becomes visible: they are two oversized eyes. The association of sand in the eye—an unpleasant feeling involving discomfort and pain—suggests itself.

Rotunda of the SCHIRN, photo Norbert Miguletz, 2016

In her works, the artist combines topics such as architecture, public space, and urban planning with subjective experiences. Her starting material is the site as she encounters it; she heightens it and stages it in a perceivable way. Thus Henke transforms the Schirn Rotunda into a walkable and constantly changing spatial sculpture in which inside and outside merge. In her formal language and her use of materials she makes deliberate references, in particular to modern and recent art history, bringing together Surrealism and Minimal Art.

Essential for the insight into things

By consciously investigating traditional artistic strategies and aesthetic concepts, Henke creates new visual experiences and contexts of meaning. The change of perspective is an important element in her works and essential for the insight into things and into life itself. Her works can be read as a self-confident statement of contemporary art, which is given additional expression in the powerful title of her work for the Schirn.

Lena Henke, photo Topical Cream

The way she treats material and colors plays a major role in Henke’s sculptures and installations. Henke already focused on the qualities of sand, for example, in early works such as the series female fatigue (2015) and the work Die (2014). As a sculptor she is aware of the fundamental importance of sand as a basic substance for the casting of sculptures. In Schrei mich nicht an, Krieger! (Don’t Shout at Me, Warrior!), she highlights the contrasting features of the material: the mass of sand, which hampers visitors’ passage through the walkways of the Schirn Rotunda, but also its lightness, since it is always in motion due to the air circulation.

The crucial irritating element

The participation of the visitors and the climatic conditions not only change the material, but also gradually alter the spatial sculpture as a whole. The sand is the crucial irritating element and at the same time is allegorically charged: it stands for impermanence, for the passage of time. The smooth, cool aluminum from which Henke fashioned the eyes is another important material in her work. The sand, which absorbs the light, forms a contrast to the silver reflections of the aluminum.

Lena Henke, project draft, 2017

The artist tosses sand in our eyes: this interaction of disparate materials, qualities, and associated experiences is both disrupting and disquieting. Henke’s use of colors results from her intense study of the architecture of sculpture gardens, light and color concepts, for which she recently travelled to Mexico, among other places, for research purposes. There she came across the buildings by the architects Luis Barragán and Mathias Goeritz, whose characteristic color design in pink, blue, and yellow is reflected in the Rotunda.

Lena Henke (*1982 in Warburg) lives and works in New York and Frankfurt am Main. Her sculptures and installations have been shown internationally in numerous solo exhibitions. Her design for the work Ascent of a Woman is currently shortlisted for the “High Line Plinth” in New York.

Lena Henke, Collage, 2017