MIRIAM LENK- ELAN VITAL
I. The central figure in Miriam Lenk's imaginary world is a female archetype; oversized, swelling body, product of a wildly proliferating nature that knows only Eros, of an eternally pregnant and pregnant world - ultimately a modern vision of our prehistoric idols, which are almost only bellies. This archetype does not stand in isolation, but is part of a natural process that we cannot control, the experience of which gives us an inkling of the dimension of the overall cosmic structure that transcends all human imagination.
II. In a soft, flowing style, yet with great formal precision, Miriam Lenk presents her archetypes in two extremes: as small formats, then completely integrated into their natural surroundings, and on the other hand as powerful, dynamically stretched, voluminous bodies growing out of these surroundings, heightened to the monumental, sometimes even monstrous. Her aim, she stated in 2014, is "to describe feelings such as self-confidence, eroticism, serenity, heaviness or lightness in a plastic way." She characterizes her artistic work as a parallelism of becoming and growing in emotion, which she calls "accumulation." This means that her works are largely created in the making, not on the basis of a prefabricated concept. In accordance with her constructional character, she therefore forms in clay and similar materials that permit such a creative growth process. Lenk thus inevitably works plastically, not sculpturally, creating sculptures, not sculptures in which one must take away from the solid material to form it.
We note: Miriam Lenk understands her own creative work as a comparable parallelism to the formative forces of nature. Her female nudes appear either as small-scale elements in the great flow of natural events or, growing out of them, as powerful, self-contained emotional spaces, testimonies to an unbridled lust for life, an unrestrained vitality and eroticism, presented in a furor that calls up the driving elemental forces of nature.
III Lenk's instinctively wild lecture is based on a development that began in 2009, two years after she left university. Starting from psychic-automatic scribbles, drawings, for example, that are created unintentionally during a telephone conversation, she discovers an unquestionably existing, natural life dynamic that is generally present in all living beings and things and connects everything with everything, a totality, as it were, in which we are all integrated regardless of our specific appearance. It was the French philosopher Henri Bergson who first referred to this vital urge inherent in the entire cosmos with his concept of "élan vital", thus providing Surrealism with the decisive intellectual impulse. In her sculpture "Insel" (Island) (2009), Miriam Lenk translates this idea into visual form for the first time. From a hybrid creature with a front body of plump human femininity and lizard-like scaled arms, an island of fantastic foliage and plants proliferates as a back body, populated by small-format Lenkian archetypes. Just as in the mythology of antiquity, for example in the form of the Sphinx, man and animal formed themselves into mixed beings, in Lenk's "island" man, animal, plants and foliage combine in a kind of modern 'Elan-Vital-Mythology' to form an inseparable wholeness, integrated, secure, carried along in and by an all-pervading growth dynamic. This is where Lenk's archetypes have found their home.
Subsequently, an increasingly expressive and free ornamentation of organic and plant components develops in Lenk's work, sometimes in close dialogue, sometimes synthetically fused. Lenk's "Tree" (2013) is an ideal example of this. Organic and vegetable elements figure together as parts of a wildly proliferating, yet systematically upward-building overall movement. And this richness of forms, overflowing in this way, striving towards the sky, i.e. towards infinity, has a tradition. What is being practiced here in a secular context can be found again in the Christian monuments of the Baroque and Rococo periods. Just compare Lenk's "Tree" with the Viennese Plague Column of 1679, dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The parallels are astounding. And just as, at the end of the Rococo, its great stucco artists were able to give free rein to their feelings in the dissolved rocaille, presented only in fragments, without losing sight of the architectural whole, so Miriam Lenk is acting at the moment with her depictions of nature and nudes. Only the world view has changed. The structural action is comparable.
IV. And just as this seemingly untamed life dynamic in nature repeatedly finds its way to structures of order, so, comparably, in Lenk's artistic work a canalization of this expressively psychic-automatic working into conscious pictorial transformation takes place. Starting in 2016, prototypes are created in this regard, building blocks that are kept as fragments in the studio and can be reused as needed. Depending on the project, the context and the intended function, they combine with new ideas and inventions of form, form themselves as parts of spatial installations on the floor (Squishy, Berlin 2017) or pile up as columns into the undefined, fictitious top ("Under Construction", Berlin Projektraum Schaufenster 2016), which in principle can be continued into infinity like Constantin Brancusi's "Endless Column" (1937). A "2nd column" will be created in 2018, this time emerging from a three-legged, earth-heavy base, a compact, wildly fantastic conglomerate of the flesh of naked Lenk archetypes, the animal and the plant. But in the end, this column also strives towards the boundless above, full of unrestrained lust, testimony to a totality striving heavenwards, celebrating itself, dominated by Eros. The provisional conclusion of the "2nd column" is a cave that looks like an open dragon's mouth, populated by creatures from Lenk's fantasy world.
V. All of the works described so far belong to the small-scale species in Lenk's oeuvre. They provide a description of her understanding of the world and form the mother soil for her meter-high, monumental nude archetypes. In them, she creates an all-encompassing image of women: liberated, unrestricted, and like goddesses, the center of a world in which there is no longer any place for men. Two works, because fully developed in this sense for the first time, should be particularly highlighted in this context: "Göttin" (2015) and "Janusfee" (2015). Both grow out of erotic, small-scale basic events and subsequently develop an over-real, gigantic, physical dominance. In both, too, the back is subject to a special design and is of interpretative significance. The back of the "Goddess" is open and gives a view into the abdominal cavity. The back of the "Janus Fairy" consists only of bulging lips, breasts and buttocks, thus reducing the representation of the front to the 'essentials'. Thus she stands as an erotic goddess of victory above the Radebeul Elbe valley. Miriam Lenk has explained her motives for the creation of the "Goddess" in detail, motives which in principle also apply to "Janusfee": „I had the idea of the temple of a polytheistic, sensual counterculture after the battle of the sexes: post-patriarchal and post-feminist. Female sexuality no longer has to be denied, it is ideally enjoyed and celebrated without purpose. The goddess is her own temple, growing out of a wildly proliferating animate nature. A temple that also celebrates femininity in an exaggerated, ironic way. The female sex rests like a tabernacle in the open abdominal cavity. The cliché of woman as vessel is satirized in the process." (2017)
VI: With admirable technical perfection Miriam Lenk identifies the female Eros as the the as the decisive driving force of human life and locates it pictorially in an all-pervading, all-powerful vegetative dynamic of nature. Her artistic appearance stands like a solitaire in the contemporary art landscape, alone and unmistakable.
Rainer Beck 04.09.2018
Sculptures by Miram Lenk - sensual counter-images to the uniform image of the body
A slim, muscular body is a central beauty ideal of the present day, which we encounter as a role model in films and advertising. According to this fashionable idea, people should be so trained that their muscles stand out. If this was first true for men, this idea has increasingly reached the female sex as well, with more curves being desired in them again in recent times. Contrary to the delusion of slim-figured femininity, there is thus a small revolt, because fat women (euphemistically called "curvy") are also currently getting a chance in TV shows and segments of advertising. The number of overweight people is simply too large to be completely ignored as market participants.
A lookback to the Late Palaeolithicand the culture of the Gravettian (approx. 35000 to 24000 years before Christ) shows with small sculptures, such as the Venus of Willendorf or the Venus of Hohlefels, that obese, almost fat women appealed to early man better thanthin Twiggy types or well-trained female figures. The reasons for this are presumably to be found in early ideas of fruit beardedness.
The image of women that the sculptor Miriam Lenk conveys to us with her art is therefore one that seems to have fallen out of time, but at the same time has a special future. Her full-bodied women are so overflowing that such opulence can almost be considered a violation of norms and rules. There is simply far too much on these bodies, just as there is on the artist's fantastically twisted, intertwined columnar forms that grow out of themselves. This TOO MUCH of swelling flesh, flab, wrinkles or mutations seems to happen as if by itself and thus seems as unrestrained as it is unlimited. This frightens those (presumably above all men) to whom control means a great deal, and yet it is precisely in this "overflowing of the banks" with all its might that lies first and foremost an expression of irrepressible vitality!
The uninhibited vitality that Miriam Lenk stages in her sculptural work thus contradicts the ideas of self-discipline and control demanded today - and thus also those of fashionable beauty: her voluminous creatures therefore seem to belong to another culture - a culture where goddesses were worshipped and the overflowing was celebrated as life-giving. It is precisely because of such lustful vitality and lack of inhibition, which eludes modern standardization, that Lenk's art touches so deeply that it also irritates.
Lenk does not orientate herself to the mainstream, but develops her work on the basis of artistic independence and self-will. With her radical position she polarizes, and so the audience is divided into those who are enthusiastic about so much carnality and others who turn away from the sculptures, which also depict eroticism, more less shocked and brusque. In her art, therefore, we encounter a special kind of radicality. It is a boundary-breaking power that arises from the fact that her designs (and figures) are built and take shape according to individual, not conventional rules. This gives rise to artistic freedom and self-assertion that does not ask for conformity.
The beginnings of her work with round sculptural forms date back to the artist's student days in Dresden. In conversation, Miriam Lenk says that at that time an excess of infatuation pushed her to express fullness and profusion in her sculptural work. It was like an initiation for her artistic future. This seems obvious: reduction, i.e. the simplification and withdrawal in design, is something that always goes hand in hand with a mental process - in the opposite sense, baroque opulence is more of an emotional event or experience that is hardly subject to a controlling rationality at the moment of its creation.
Miriam Lenk's sculptures, especially the group of oversized women, also possess characteristics of the grotesque style in their physical exaltation. From this point of view, her works are to be understood as further developments of a "Mannerist tradition", which Gustav René Hocke described as an epoch-spanning form of representation: In the mannerist tradition, according to Hocke, lies the capacity for a "grotesque expressive gesture". This is an indication of the "problematic human being". With regard to Miriam Lenk's art, it can be argued that her ideas and representations of the body, nature and culture are ironically connoted counter-models to those that are instilled in us through the media and want to prescribe how we should be, how we should control and regulate ourselves and others in order to conform to an image or ideal that was not conceived by us. Miriam Lenk's art thus creates not only a surprisingly sensual pleasure, but also an opportunity to understand the differences between an individual artistic conception of corporeality and the offered, above all uniform body image of the present.
Peter Funken, Berlin, July 2017
Miriam Lenk Sculptures
„Our view of the individual in Western civilization is obscured by all sorts of ideals: the ascetic body of the ancient athlete, the battered body of Christ, and Mary, the girlish, desexualized mother of God. All this is an expression of an agreement between sensuality, reason and humanity that has been longed for since classical times, and reflects an ideal - reality is not.
And so it is hardly surprising that libidinous aggressiveness regularly erupts in art and society, which appears all the more effectively in social and art history the more central these and other ideals have been and the more rigidly a political, cultural or religious quotation has determined them.
The sculptor Miriam Lenk sets as her artistic theme an anti-ideal of humanistic bourgeoisie and places it at the centre of her work. She has created a pleasure image of the human, oscillating between overflowing heaviness and light pleasantness, both engaging and irritating. These voluminous, feminine, swelling formations of her figures appear in a climate of contemporary hostility to the flesh, when the industrious citizen patiently subordinating himself to the fortunes of political events is booming in Europe.
Lenk's figure oscillates between opposites: Heavy and light, smooth and folded, proportioned and at the same time grotesque and mannered. With this interplay, the artist revives the baroque pictorial language and refers to one of the most contradictory epochs. The Baroque is not only the age of overflowing ornamentation, but also one of new beginnings, inventions, philosophy and natural science. This contrast is exemplarily embodied in the courtly baroque art and architecture(...)
Ulrike Pennewitz 2015
Miriam Lenk: A Mysterious Lenk
Mystery is one of life's most simple, yet interesting things. We find it in so many different ways, and seemingly can't get enough of it. That's why we spend so much time reading murder mystery novels, or watching the latest TV drama series. The sensation we get throughout the build up from week to week, not knowing what to expect, or the good old "I knew it!" moment that we're guaranteed, keeps us entertained. Miriam Lenk is very much a mystery. Trying to pick her brain about her life, her upbringing, or her work, is a feat in itself.
Lenk is a German sculptor whose works are very recognizable because of how unusual they are. Her style and subject selection are some of the things that makes her a unique artist. She chooses to use subjects that don't have what society deems as traditionally beautiful features, but are displayed in such a way that their flaws help you gravitate towards the pieces. Instead of pointing out the female subject's flaws in a negative manner, you become intrigued and find yourself admiring them. Or at the very least paying attention to them. One way or the other, she finds a way to grasp your attention.
Some of her works have been of larger women with animalistic and nonhuman qualities. Oktopussy is a naked female figure, but has wings and eight tentacles. While Island 2009 has the physical features of a larger breasted woman attached to a tree, with some kind of animal's feet.
Lenk is also known for the exaggerated state in which she displays her sculpted ladies. As, Jenna Thompson of Boise State University once said on her blog about Lenk and her Cumulus piece, "Making the vulva so large and visible reads as being meant as something sexual and desirable, unhidden and unashamed. This work is unusual in today's society where emphasis is placed on the female form being thin in order to be considered sexy."
The mystery that is Miriam Lenk shall be solved, hopefully, one day. Or maybe it won't. Maybe that's just her thing - to remain with a low-profile. I can't say I blame her; being famous and having that celebrity status and not being able to do simple things seems stressful. The way to avoid it may just be to steer clear of the tabloids, the cameras, and especially social media (to an extent). While the mystery that comes along with her may add to the curiosity of fans about her personal life, her work speaks for itself, which is how it should be. There shouldn't be a need to delve into one's personal life if they're giving quality work and staying out of the negative headlines.
Blake Holmes 2016 Visionary Artistry Magazine
Epoxy resin 310 x 40 x 36 cm
Miniaturized grotesques and ornamental details tense as organically tendril-like columns in geometric space. In a high pictorial density, animal and plant bodies merge in a cheerful round dance in the maze of figures. The tendril reveals itself as a floating, irrational continuum in the Euclidean structure, in which meaning, sense and logic seem to be just beginning to form."
Ulrike Pennewitz 2016
(...)In this context, Miriam Lenk's sculptures appear like objects for a future species, in which forms from art and nature mutually interact.
communicate. In such works, the boundaries between natural and cultural processes dissolve, the areas are blurred without transition, they become interchangeable. What appears to be natural and alive is, of course, artificial and designed.
Peter Sparks 2016
Bronze, 168 x 66 x 71cm
I had the idea of the temple of a polytheistic, sensual counterculture after the battle of the sexes: post-patriarchic and post-feminist.
Female sexuality no longer has to be denied, it is ideally enjoyed and celebrated without purpose.
The goddess is her own temple, growing out of a wildly proliferating ,animated nature. A temple that also celebrates femininity in an exaggerated, ironic way: The female sex rests like a tabernacle in the opened abdominal cavity. The cliché of woman as vessel is thereby satirized. Miriam Lenk 2017
(...)The unrestrained vitality that Miriam Lenk stages in her sculptural work thus contradicts the ideas of self-discipline and control that are demanded today.
Her voluminous creatures therefore seem to belong to a different culture - a culture where goddesses were worshipped and the overflowing was celebrated as life-giving. It is precisely because of such lustful vitality and lack of inhibition, which eludes modern standardization, that Lenk's art touches so deeply that it also irritates.(...) Peter Funken 2017
„Miriam Lenk's character "Goddess" stands in stark contrast to the frighteningly monotonous bodily ideals of current capitalist erotica, which is designed to make female
bodies to reduce or conform, but not to celebrate or experience female bodies and the sensual pleasure possible with them." Gertrud Ohling von Haaken 2014
Yolanda 2004/ 2006
Yolanda, however, speaks to the millions of women who are faced with this visual message daily and yet do not fit into the category of thin. She tells them that they too are beautiful, that they too can be powerful and that they should celebrate their voluptuousness instead of despise it. Yolanda oozes sexiness, self-confidence, and celebration. In our current society, where thinness equals beauty,
Yolanda stands as "an icon for female self-confidence beyond the little girl-like craze to be skinny, which the media outlets would like us to believe to be the common beauty ideal.1"
Miriam Lenk states that "just like it is the most natural thing in the world, Yolanda occupies
the available space and does not care about any objections. She] is exhibitionistic. Yolanda stands for the special moment of self-confidence. The moment when you love yourself although you know that you are not perfect for the common beauty ideal.2"
She sends the message that "you are the beauty queen of your own world!3"
Miriam Lenk make Yolanda conveys this message in a number of ways.
She does this through the size and placement of Yolanda, through Yolanda's stance and her gaze.Yolanda standing 10 ½ feet tall and weighing almost 2,000 pounds is a towering corpulent nude goddess wearing only a slight smile and high-heeled shoes. Her presence, like that of the Venus of Hohle Fels, is monumental only on a much larger scale. She is raised up on a pedestal so that a close viewer has to look up to take her in, much like viewers of Michelangelo's David had to in Renaissance Italy (Slide 8). A pedestal is the "term used for the substructure of a column in a Classical order, also widely used to denote a semi-architectural support for the display of objects.4"
By placing Yolanda on a pedestal, Lenk is symbolically telling the viewer that Yolanda is important and should be looked at while also connecting her to Classical art techniques.
Yolanda is strong in her stance and her gaze. Her posture and attitude channel the pride she feels for her curves and confidence. She stands with her spine straight, her arms crossed behind her head in a playful "showing off" while a subtle smile crosses her lips and dances in her eyes.
Lenk has created a private moment much like Rubens did in Hélène Fourment in a Fur Coat. She could be trying on a new pair of shoes or is just getting ready to go out when she glimpses her reflection in a mirror and decides to pose for herself. Whatever the reasoning, the end result is a self-confidence which invites the viewer to indulge in with her.
In conclusion, through the creation of Yolanda, Miriam Lenk works towards enlightening those in today's culture who insists that the fat female nude is something that should be despised and eradicated. Lenk does so by emphasizing the size of Yolanda and placing her on a pedestal. She also utilizes Yolanda's gaze to invite viewers to look at her and see the beauty she sees within herself.
Yolanda is the current fat female nude carrying the torch in the long tradition of the fat female nude in art history.
Jennifer Ketterling Spates from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
1 Miriam Lenk, Artist, Germany, interview by the author via email, November 2011.
2 Interview by the author via email, November 2011.
3 Interview by the author via email, November 2011.
4 Oxford Art Online, s.v. "pedestal," accessed on December 10th, 2011,