The sculptures of Lauren Henkin reimagines the architectural space with 'Props'

The sculptural interventions by Henkin with the exhibition Props, at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, defy our notions on the obvious settings of built-up spaces.

by Dilpreet Bhullar Published on : Feb 20, 2020

Inevitable to our existence is the act of transition that also defines and values our sense of belonging. Architecture, as a dynamic field, is the immediate example of constantly transforming the built spaces: keeping the work of architecture always in transit. The logics of the transit-process cannot be reduced to tabula rasa, the present does carry the traces of the past. Here, to strike a healthy balance between the two remains imperative.  

Dwelling on similar grounds is the latest exhibition, titled Props by Lauren Henkin. The photographer and sculptor Henkin, who made a transition from studying architecture to the field of arts - with Props curated by Steven Matijcio, at Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati - intervenes with its architecture, which happens to be the first building in the U.S. designed by Zaha Hadid, by making sculptures.

Architecture, before the dawn of post-modernism was led by the decorum of straight structures and formal styles devoid of diversity.  When the post-modernist architectural was at its pinnacle, a distinct voice of decorated architect Zaha Hadid grew, which celebrated the coming together of the artistic influences and technological advancement through her designs.

Lauren Henkin, Prop 5, 2019, located on third floor stairwell landing | Lauren Henkin | Props | STIRworld
Lauren Henkin, Prop 5, 2019, located on third floor stairwell landing Image Credit: Jeremy Kramer

The eight mixed-media sculptures greeting the audience at the odd places such as beside a stairway, in a bathroom, between the two floors, challenge our notions of normalcy when it comes to buildings and its stylistic structures.  The title of the exhibition Props may be misleading, the sculptural interventions are not the minuscule an-add-on to the museum, but mammoth in their size, seamlessly manifesting Henkin’s idea of art objects and aesthetics.

Lauren Henkin, Prop 7, 2019, located on fourth floor hallway | Lauren Henkin | Props | STIRworld
Lauren Henkin, Prop 7, 2019, located on fourth floor hallway Image Credit: Jeremy Kramer

When the artist’s interventions are a part of the museum that was designed by Hadid, the space could either intimidate or inspire the artist. Echoing the latter feelings of inspiration, Henkin in an interview says, “I was very inspired by the spaces created by Zaha Hadid in the Rosenthal building. Some of the locations for the pieces are in dramatic spaces that she created (like on the floating glass skylight, or next to the large concrete curved wall). Others are in much more mundane spaces (like the bathrooms).  In those less dramatic ones, I was more interested in starting a conversation with a viewer about where art can and should be encountered.”

Lauren Henkin, Prop 4, 2019, located in women’s bathroom | Lauren Henkin | Props | STIRworld
Lauren Henkin, Prop 4, 2019, located in women’s bathroom Image Credit: Jeremy Kramer

Behind the painted and plastered walls, polished doors, lay a gamut of material that makes building functional. Playing with the same material, Henkin’s sculptural interventions defy the geometry of the architecture and open the hidden rawness of the material with her works. Henkin explains her choice of material when she says, “I deliberately wanted to use materials that might purposefully be hidden in each space. I used insulation, steel mesh, raw lumber, plumbing pipes, electrical cables and more.  The reason I chose these materials was to break with the formality and finished quality of the building’s surfaces, while also creating uncertainty within the viewer as to whether what they are looking at is the art or a remnant from another installation or construction project within the Museum.  I want the viewers to have to declare for themselves what their parameters are for defining art.”

Lauren Henkin, Prop 3, 2019, located on ground floor | Lauren Henkin | Props | STIRworld
Lauren Henkin, Prop 3, 2019, located on ground floor Image Credit: Jeremy Kramer

Not often would you expect a work of the artist in the bathroom of a museum. Here again, Henkin disapproves of the presumptions to challenge the audience’s expected line of thoughts. Giving insights on the ideation process of the two interventions in the bathroom, Henkin states, “Prop 8 in the men’s bathroom has a more organic, feminine kind of form.  But that was more my reaction to contrasting a clinical feeling and materials in that space, rather than thinking about one gender or another utilising it. In the women’s bathroom, I wanted to create a kind of chaotic labyrinth form out of plumbing pipes, to reference the pattern of circulation and disorientation that Zaha created in the building.”

Lauren Henkin, Prop 1, 2019, located in entry vestibule | Lauren Henkin | Props | STIRworld
Lauren Henkin, Prop 1, 2019, located in entry vestibule Image Credit: Jeremy Kramer

When only constant is change, indeed, a walk through the Contemporary Arts Center with Henkin’s Props prompts the audience to look beyond what is given when it comes to architectural styles.

The exhibition runs at Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, till March 1, 2020.

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About Author

Dilpreet Bhullar

Dilpreet Bhullar

Bhullar is a writer-researcher based in New Delhi. She has been co-editor of the books Third Eye: Photography and Ways of Seeing and Voices and Images. Her essays on visual sociology and identity politics are frequently published in leading books, journals and magazines. She is the associate editor of a theme-based journal dedicated to visual arts, published by India Habitat Centre.

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