Surrealism, malfunctioning and failures of all sorts seem to stick to the image of Belgium like a shit to a blanket. But how are Belgians dealing with their tragic fate? Well, denial, indifference and resignation are fairly popular. But then there are also sparkles of ingenious black humor. Belgian Solutions, photo book by David Helbich recently published by MediuMER, falls to this last category.
Belgian Solutions is a project that makes you laugh and cry at the same time. Helbich – who’s not Belgian himself, but a German living in Brussels since 2002 – records and shares on his website the culture shocks he encounters on a daily basis: architectural and urbanist disasters, ludicrous restoration attempts, signalisation that brings more confusion than clarity and other traces of aesthetic and structural retardation. “Belgian”, in this context, equals cheap, crappy and ridiculous.
Having lived in Brussels for many years, these photos resonate with us on many different levels. Hell, plenty of them were even taken in our former hood… And although there is a softer (romantic, anarchistic, even poetic) undertone to some of the images, the fact that this is a portrait of the capital of the European Union and not a filmset from Monty Python, still makes you shiver. WTF? How is this possible?
Obviously planning disasters, absurd engineering decisions and cultural decay are not just a Belgian anomaly. What’s disturbing ‘though, is that while in other countries stuff like this mostly provokes embarrassment and aim for improvement, in Belgium it seems to be joyfully accepted and branded as national cool. Take for instance the text introducing another popular photo blog, Ugly Belgian Houses. Its author states: “Because most Belgian houses suck. Even mine. Seriously. My English sucks too. But I kinda like that. Fuckers.” Right… Don’t get us wrong, we enjoy a healthy dose of sarcasm and self-relativation in form of ugly houses, local election clips or the legendary In de Gloria. Just beware of the unwanted side effects before it’s too late.
Conclusion? Belgian Solutions is a great book to have. It will make you laugh but it will also make you think. And hopefully – especially if you live in Brussels – to act. Come on, it must be possible to push that city’s image to something more than a laughing stock.