François Hers, the initiator of the New Patrons, already opined: It is the good right of a group to reject a solution in which it does not recognize itself. Even if an artist has done what they could. And that is exactly what happened in Penkun.
At first glance, Penkun's marketplace is unremarkable. Anyone who reaches the center of the town of 1800 inhabitants sees a predominantly two-story enclosed square. A high thorn hedge is not to be seen here. But that is Penkun's mission: to free Sleeping Beauty. The market is the beautiful daughter of the king and for the good end of the fairy tale the invigorating kiss is missing. It is about the reanimation of an aimless urban center.
For our market square we would like to see a work of art in the creation of which all Penkuner are involved, so that the square experiences a similar awakening as happened to Sleeping Beauty. The square should constantly pulsate as the heart of the city and become a common, open living room for all of us.
Because market squares of today's villages and cities have changed. People shop elsewhere and the center of the city is often just a stopover. So the commission is not simply to transform a square, but above all to transform the behavior of its users.
But how do you kiss marketplaces awake, whose green islands already have enough flowers blooming and yet princes only linger for the duration of a pharmacy visit? What reason could be created "for the people of Penkun to participate in the furnishing of this place as one participates in the furnishing of one's living room," as the commission goes on to say? To think of the public space like a private parlor and yet radically open it up to everyone - that is the challenge of this commission.
Mediator Holger Friese suggested a specialist for interventions to the commissioning group for this purpose. The New York-based artist Lena Henke leaves behind highly effective doses of signs wherever she works. Her art does not want to subjugate the space, but to change its parameters. With tightly calculated interventions, she transforms open spaces into fields of tension instead of dictating fixed viewpoints to the audience.
For Penkun, she conceives a "garden for everyone" instead of a living room for everyone. In doing so, she follows the small-town logic in which real life always happens behind the hedge, at barbecues and talks, on the extended living territory behind the house. From summer movies to market day, Henke simulates the square as a place where no dress code applies, but rather the laws of family life: your marketplace is your garden.
The central element of her design is a signal-yellow oversized rotary clothes dryer with six-centimeter-thick, climbable drying strands. If the marketplace were freed from its burden of being a public arena with such an unmistakable sign that everyone could understand, Penkun might learn to love what it still gives a wide berth to today. "The walk toward the rotary clothes dryer and the chat under it occur in an in-between space," as Henke says, "that gives courage to new encounters."
"What matters to us is that the people of Penkun participate in the establishment of this place," the commission stated very clearly. The artist and mediator hope to first create the space for later participation. They do not want to persuade anyone. The space would have to change flavor and color, so to speak. After that, it would depend on the people of Penkun what they do in this environment.
The five patrons, on the other hand, wanted to take people by the hand at this very own Penkun marketplace and find out which kiss might awaken it after so many years of sleep. Accordingly, they were taken aback by the artistic proposal. One had expected a large, city-wide dialogue, the joint work on site, an artist who seduces fleeting neighbors into conversation.
What happened was just what could happen with a project for the New Patrons: a breakup. "We didn't get through to her," says Edmund Geiger a year later, "or she didn't get through to us. The idea she presented to us, we really didn't accept it!" It wasn't about the design, it was about the group's claim to the process of the entire city working together on the artwork.
Looking back on the dialogue with the Penkun commissioning group, the artist sees the desire "to furnish the longed-for living room" as an "uncompromising imperative." She speaks of a failed understanding and looks with regret at the emptiness that prevails before and after in a place that still can neither redeem a claim to centrality nor the demanded privacy.
The group nevertheless sees itself as one step further and is looking for a new solution for the marketplace - but no longer as New Patrons.