Stray Dogs and City Streets Inspire Lena Henke’s Meditations on Public and Private Space

“Blessed be God for the strength of strays. / Great gridded worlds weigh down on them.” So opens the poem by art writer Pablo Larios that served as press release for “DIE,” Lena Henke’s recent exhibition at Parisa Kind in Frankfurt. Across her varied body of work, Henke often contemplates these gridded worlds, or rather, cities, taking their streets as a sort of emblem of contemporary life, exploring the intersection of frenzied social activity and loneliness, and the private moments that occur in the public sphere.

Henke’s striking images of motionless dogs invoke this ambiguity—do the strays sleep soundly, at ease even in the midst of the sidewalk? Or have they perished out in the open, with no place to find shelter? Their silken coats further impede interpretation; the dogs’ natural refuge appears so soft and warm that one recalls the comfort of the furs mined from defenseless animals. The porous cocoons that accompany these works in Henke’s “Relief” series, too, accentuate the fragility of so-called creature comforts, their metal forms giving the impression of plush wool.

Parisa Kind will bring the works from “DIE” to their booth at FIAC this week, in addition to a new series of Henke’s sculptures to be displayed in the fair’s Lafayette sector, which supports the exhibition of emerging artists’ work. Collectively titled the “Parkchester City Series” these works are Henke’s second series of gelatine-on-duraclear “bags” bearing distorted images of public sculptures that she has encountered. Crafted into translucent rectangular prisms that hover on gallery walls, the earlier series was installed in 2012 at Brooklyn’s Real Fine Arts, where, as Larios himself shrewdly noted in frieze d/e, they were “mounted at urinal-divider height”—a fitting comment given its invocation of another private-but-public space. Henke’s use of images of public sculpture foregrounds the strangeness of the fact that the intimacy of experiencing an artwork most often takes place in a social setting, whether in a town square or in a gallery.

Installed together in this way, Henke’s  “bags” recall Donald Judd’s iconic “stacks” or Nobuhiro Nakanishi’s suspended slides—Jerry Saltz called her 2012 showing “a minimalist configuration transformed into something ghostly, strange, un-artlike.” Indeed, Henke pushes this structure forward to an unexpected conclusion: decay. Plastic, once the uncontested material of the future, becomes flimsy in the process of its folding, its crystal-clear artifice betrayed by the creased corners and overlapping edges of Henke’s boxy shapes. This transparent enclosure is not the beautiful glass case that displays ancient artifacts or fine pieces of jewelry; it is a trap, albeit one so insubstantial it almost seems like an illusion, emphasizing the strength of the imaginary barriers that maintain the precarious balance between the public and the private.


Visit Parisa Kind at FIAC 2014, Lafayette section, Booth 1.G04, Paris, October 23-26.

Follow Parisa Kind on Artsy.