A curator from abroad has recently told me about an artist whose work could be categorized only with difficulties and hard to define. He summed up his impression by saying he wasn’t sure whether the artist was lunatic or a genius. Similar speculation applies to David Helán as well. In a way, he is an eccentric image breaker, a descendant of Dadaists who didn’t take art seriously but at the same time he is substantially immersed into his work and he declares it’s much harder not to be an artist than to be.
David Helán (born in 1979) attended a year at Agricultural and Forestry Faculty of Mendel University in Brno where he studied Landscape Engineering, between 2004 and 2010 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, in the studio of Conceptual Art under Miloš Šejn. A specific way of thinking (or being) is typical of his work rather than a specific art form. He creates objects, paintings, photographs, installations, situations – or more likely he just responds spontaneously to ongoing situations. His „piece“ Havárie horkovodu (2008) became a legend. He took advantage of hot water leakage into a trench in front of the Academy of Fine Arts building to take a winter bath. Similar spontaneity is peculiar to his actions-reactions he makes together with David Hřivňacký. They react to gallery spaces and work of other artists. For example to an object of Jiří Kovanda at the exhibition Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan, Boba Dylana in DOX. Their performance competed with the exhibition already by its name David Bowie 3D (2011). The event How to Explain in the 207 Gallery had a similar nature. We may regard the name as a reference to Beuys’s How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. Helán also often turns to the history of art on whose icons he differently trades for his own use, for example by creating „1:1 paraphrase of Mondrian’s chronically famous canvas Victory Boogie Voogie“ in the project „Manhattan: nahmatán – nenahmatán“ (2013).
He also paraphrased collage techniques of Jiří Kolář by introducing his own terms such as „fatamontage“ or „protoproláž“. „Kolář syndrome“ comes through in Helán’s long-term project Dictionary of Loans whose entries refer especially to his own work. Play on words describes David Helán’s work more and more intensively and he believes it is „possible to run within a continual text“. His own tongue-twisters are the best key to his work interpretation – they do not make any logical sense however there is some meaning. Helán is undoubtedly a very literate and intelligent person, but he somehow undermines the authority of rationality and language as a meaningful tool of communication and he indicates we don’t have to understand everything to discover the world. A distinctive humour and irony plays a significant role in his work.

Tereza Jindrová

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