David De Beyter hails from the north of France, an area renowned for its industrial character and fiercely proud inhabitants. After growing up in the area, De Beyter stayed for his studies, forging a deeper connection with the region. In parallel to a musical career (more below), De Beyter became interested in a community of car demolition enthusiasts known as “The Big Bangers.”
Over the course of several years, De Beyter built up a complex, multimedia presentation of this unique subculture. Using photographs as well as moving images, sound and installations, De Beyter captured their paradoxically creative practice of automobile destruction.
Curious to learn more, LensCulture managing editor Alexander Strecker spoke with De Beyter about his work at the FOAM Talent Exhibition, on view in Amsterdam until November 12, 2017.
LensCulture: I was drawn to this work, in part, because it shows destruction just for the pleasure of it (an example of this is your image “Not for a trophy but a good crash”). So much creativity these days is a means to an end—a prize, an exhibition, money. Is creativity (or destructive creativity, in this case) for its own sake important to you?
David De Beyter: I could define the practice of “The Big Bangers” as an accelerated process of ruining the car object. Yes, it generates ephemeral trophies, but what is emphasized in “The Big Bangers” is, above all, the momentary spectacle of destruction.
Filmmaker Jean Rouch said that the role of anthropology is to put into circulation disturbing objects. That is precisely what I am interested in doing with my work. There are not really any (obvious) aesthetic stakes in this community—that became clear to me after I spent a significant amount of time with them. For example, even the term “Auto-sculpture” appears mostly in their fanzines as a joke, as a way to name some of their more spectacular crashes, not as an artistic positioning.
Rather, the Big Bangers gather in a community of violence, in a punk spirit of “je-m’en-foutisme” [I-don’t-give-a-fuckism]. But even as “punks,” there is no political statement in the practice of the Big Bangers. I was attracted, specifically, to the dichotomy between the gratuitousness and extravagance of their meaningless gestures and the strong symbolic dimension that I sensed in their actions. My work grapples with this gap.
LC: Can you say more about the relationship between images and objects, since it seems that you rely on both in this body of work? Are images, by themselves, objects? What do images give us that objects don’t? Why do you mix different media to tell your story—photos, video, archival work, zines, pieces of cars and so on?
DDB: This approach of employing different techniques was done in an intuitive and conceptual way. Intuitive because I use photography both as a research tool and as a goal. That is to say, I started this project using photography, but as I progressed in my research and began defining my subject more precisely, I soon had the intuition that I had to take the landscape out of the frame and bring it back into the experience of the exhibition. This is reflected in my work through the inclusion of video and sound landscapes in my exhibitions.
There is also a form of archeology in my work. This is revealed in “The Big Bangers” project through the sculptures that are artifacts of their destructive practice. These sculptures offer a point of view, a concrete touchstone of the lived experience of the Big Banger community.
Conceptually, what interests me has always been bringing together different media and exploring different meanings of the image. I want to add tension to photography, using its documentary form in order to reflect on and question our expectations of the still image.
LC: As someone who came from a musical background, I imagine the silence of photography could have been frustrating. How have you overcome this? Is the photograph still too quiet for you? How about the space of the museum? Also too quiet?
DDB: I appreciate the silence of photography for some of my artistic proposals, especially in my work “Concrete Mirrors.” Indeed, the parallels between my music projects and my photography can be stronger or less evident at different times, but the connection to “The Big Bangers” is certainly clear. My background as a musician has been marked by the “live” experience of concerts, especially in the post-hardcore scene.
“The Big Bangers” developed into an immersive exhibition early on in the process. When you enter the room, the sound of my videos interferes with the photographs and the sculptures. As you move, the whole dialogue collides and clashes. In the world of these cars, one is immersed in a chaotic musicality: the noise of the engines, the grinding of the tires, the clanging shockwaves between the cars, hammer blows and even cries of children. At this level, thanks to the intensity of the noise, one experiences a form of aural violence and visceral force akin to the feeling that one might experience at a sludge concert. It is an experience that I try to transpose into the (often quiet) exhibition spaces that my work occupies.
LC: Finally, you mention the Big Bangers a lot, but you don’t show them much, as people. Was this an intentional choice? This project could have easily become an anthropological look at the Bangers themselves, but instead it focuses on the objects they leave behind.
DDB: Yes, it is indeed a choice. Even if anthropology is a science that influences my work deeply, I chose to construct the project such that the protagonists of the community appear very little.
Nevertheless, my work is not limited to the formal dimension of showing the individuals themselves. I am interested in the close links that can exist between a machine (an object) and the surrounding social ritual. Thus, phrases, words, inscriptions, tributes or memorials—it is a common practice for them to use a ruined car as a memorial—are all present on my sculptures and in some of my images. I consciously chose to incorporate these phrases into my work. In their relationship to death, they reveal an added dimension and deeply human presence. Even if the figures of the Big Bangers are not visible, their traces can be found underlying each of my photographs, films and sculptures.
—David De Beyter, interviewed by Alexander Strecker