Artist David Helbich: ‘My house and my character are connected with Belgian solutions’

Going to cafés for informal small talk takes place with David Helbich in bars where any Brussels resident can feel at home, such as Café Bebo on Rouppeplein. That he as a German immigrant note bene, med Belgian solutions eHe believes that his greatest achievement as a conceptual artist has launched an understanding that depicts our Belgian floor plan very sharply.

The German sound artist David Helbich (49) went viral about ten years ago with his photo project Belgian solutions. The typically Belgian ability to come up with creative, albeit rather ostentatious and layered solutions to everyday problems in the public space is also central to the just released third volume of the photo book of the same name.

He has now lived in the capital for twenty years. First he passed through Molenbeek, like most immigrants, then past Sint-Joost and now he has lived in the city center for thirteen years. He has never applied for Belgian citizenship. “Because it doesn’t make any difference,” he says on the terrace of Café Bebo on Rouppeplein, around the corner from his rental flat in Stalingradlaan. “I know many foreigners who are fully integrated here, but who will never obtain Belgian citizenship. They are proud of the international mix.”

While a mother at another table helps children with their homework, Helbich greets some passers-by he knows from the art sector. “The mix of identities here symbolizes the neighborhood. Users of the gym, where I myself play badminton, come here in the evening to drink their beer. Fortunately, the owners haven’t changed much from the cafe’s generic nineties look, apart from the drinks menu, which offers an extensive selection of insanely tasty beers. Instead of wanting to become a hip coffee shop, a pub or a neighborhood café, everyone is welcome here.”

“On the street, the old Brussels bourgeoisie crosses the young Moroccan community, and you can spot some social housing towers between the roofs. They are not relegated to the suburbs here. Each municipality has its edge in the center of another municipality. (laughing) At first I really didn’t understand it, but I embraced it. My family is from Berlin, I grew up in Bremen, studied in Freiburg and lived in Amsterdam for six years, all cities that I can easily explain how they tick. Brussels is different.” I’ve already finished.”

“I also love Brussels because it is such an easy city to return to. Other cities make you feel like you can’t participate anymore if you leave. If you want to be part of Amsterdam, you have to become Dutch and be part of the cake. Brussels is a cake box. Each identity gets a separate living space and belongs to it.”

David Helbich came to Brussels at that time because the dance scene fascinated him. “If text or music is not the most important thing in a performance, space is freed up for artists like me, who love art movements like fluxus and dada, where everything is allowed.”

Gradually, the composer began to motivate his audience to make things move themselves. “Early in my career I recognized the importance of the context in which art was performed. I soon abandoned the idea of ​​writing an absolute work that explains itself. I saw more potential in the use of the environment, as in my case often lay outside the theatre.”

David Helbich came up with hiking concepts and audio guides. “Because of corona, cities understand better that if you remove art from its cultural temples and white dice liberates, every street corner becomes a potential site for artistic intervention. Instead of saying how my art should be experienced, I began to develop concepts that made the public responsible for their experience. I don’t call it interactive, but introactive art.”

Although it is different, it also fits Belgian solutions in that discourse. “I am still ashamed when people address me as a photographer. I call it a photo project, about urbanity, about public space and about how we use the medium of photography to frame and share things.”

His latest photo book therefore again contains images of other amateur photographers together with his own snapshots. You can find more online. “Yet it would be megalomaniac to claim they are one score do what i wrote. They don’t just perform, but give it their own twist.”

To Helbich’s credit, at that point he came up with a title for his idea that took on a life of its own. “I didn’t actually call it ‘Photos of road signs and cables’ but ‘Belgian solutions’. After all, isn’t it every conceptual artist’s dream to switch languages? I can’t immediately see my English expression in Van Dale but on the other hand: only when you can express something can you point it out. When people started doing it, it wasn’t just about the pictures anymore, and I knew I had hit a nerve.”

With any Belgian. “French speakers now even talk about ‘un Belzian zolution’ (laughing) and if the Flemish tell me that it only applies to the capital ‘because Brussels doesn’t work anyway’, I immediately send them pictures with some examples from Flanders.

Of course, the phenomenon also exists in other countries, but “Belgian brew” cannot be improved, according to Helbich. “It has to do with visibility. If the street is broken in Germany, it will be restored to its original condition. In Belgium, a solution to a problem is added to the public space. Because the tracks are not hidden away afterwards, an extra layer is created. In this way, each street here gets its own character.”

“Whether you find it annoying or funny is another discussion. When I arrived here via the Netherlands, where everything is neatly divided into boxes, I was surprised. Now I can only say that I live like this. I am completely integrated: my house and my character are connected with Belgian solutions.” (laughing)

© Ivan Put

“It’s so messy here, I sometimes hear my girlfriend say about the public space. You may regret it, but it also means that someone else didn’t design or decide everything for you. Belgian solutions indifferent to the past or the future. They are an ultimate lesson in the here-and-now.”

Because it is always difficult for Helbich to come up with good gifts, he thinks it is funny that he has come up with just the ultimate coffee table book. That even at the alternative festival Meakusma, where they know his career as a sound artist, he goes around with the label Belgian solutions he takes it. “It is also boring to be alone in your own world as an artist. I want to participate in society. Even the more radical sound artist in me is always looking for something to share.”

He doesn’t want to make minor soundbites about it. “In addition to a corona virus, I got the virus from analog synthesizers during the pandemic. During the day I make noise, at night techno. I call it my midlife crisis. I am currently preparing a concert in Copenhagen with slammed doors, which I recorded in The Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. The reverberation of the one that sounds like someone disappearing again, which refers to the thousands of graves in the church, is also a clue for me.”

His meditation wallpapers with resounding messages such as ‘Imagine silence’ could recently be heard again at the Biennale des Imaginaires Numériques in Marseille, while his alternative spelling of ‘Beursschouwburg’, which was originally supposed to hang on the facade of the art center in the Ortsstraat, after ten years has become a divisive critique of the big cities’ air pollution.

civic duty
“I thought: I wanted to make a photo book for Wiels’ bookshop. But there they found Belgian solutions too commercial because you could also buy it in Fnac. I was offended by that for two minutes. The fact that you, as a citizen, do not wait for everything to be done for you, I think is perhaps the most important thing in the project. There are almost no people in my pictures, yet you see them constantly making decisions.”

David Helbich’s Belgian Solutions Volume 3 has just been published by Luster

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