Lauren Henkin

Lauren Henkin, Visual Artist

The Architecture of Happiness

When I was recovering from surgery, I received some recommendations for books to read. One of the books I finished was The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. It is the best book I've read in a long time. It makes a case for recognizing the often overlooked connection between constructed space and our perception of comfort, safety, and pleasure. When you study architecture as I did in college, you slowly, at times painfully, become aware of that connection. It is at once liberating, exciting, and heartbreaking. As you develop your own personal sensitivity to space, you also realize how little the importance of it is valued, especially in the United States.

de Botton states, "Our love of home is in turn an acknowledgment of the degree to which our identity is not self-determined. We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us."

I have always been drawn to photographing houses. Maybe even more, since I lost mine. It has always represented everything to me that was sacred and important: family, safety, warmth, humility, and comfort. The pictures that have truly haunted me, especially in Displaced were the ones of homes, or that represented the idea of home. And I can't seem to let it go.

This read was eerily timely. I have been constructing, in my imagination, a body of work that gets me back to drawing, the kind of drawing I did when designing buildings— but somehow combining that with imagery. I don't know yet exactly what that means, and this is the struggle, but when I read the book, I knew I had to try. It is so important to me, to expose what memories lie beneath the surfaces we exist in, that I am willing to risk, and to try a working method I've never explored before. I'm willing to fail.

In thinking about this undertaking, I've been looking intently at the work of others combining drawing, collage or sculpture with images. I've been fascinated by the work of John Baldessari, Rachel Whiteread, and Portland's own, Heidi Kirkpatrick. Rachel's in particular has stuck with me. She is primarily a sculptor, but uses drawing to further conceptualize and plan for her final three dimensional piece. She focuses a great deal on home, on the mundane objects that we keep and use over and over again, without ever really examining. You can watch a short video on Rachel's work and sketchbooks by clicking here.

© Rachel Whiteread, <i>Stairs</i>, 2003

I miss drawing. I miss the precision, the control you feel in adjusting the weight of the pencil against the paper. I miss the softness of the gray tones. There has been a long gap between when I made those drawings and now. I want to go back to them. There was a beauty there, that combined with who I am now as a photographer, might finally make sense to me. It's almost as if I've led two separate lives, and now feel finally able to marry them.

I will try to take you along on the building of this work, but for now, I leave you with another quote from de Botton, "...the architectural impulse seems connected to a longing for communication and commemoration, a longing to declare ourselves to the world through a register other than words, through the language of objects, colours and bricks: an ambition to let others know who we are — and, in the process, to remind ourselves."

More later...