"HELLWECH"  (Middle Low Ger.) means ‘bright path’, and since the High Middle Ages has referred to royal and military roads; it was mandatory to keep them free of undergrowth by one lance’s width (approx. 3 metres). Dozens of ‘Hellwege’ are testified in medieval records in various parts of Westphalia. However, the fact that this name remained only in reference to the Duisburg-Höxter route, with a modest expansion into the region between the Rhine and Weser rivers in the late middle ages, underlines the importance and special position of this trade region.

from: Zeitreise Hellweg - Spuren einer Straße durch die Jahrhunderte. Reinhild Stephan-Maaser, commissioned by Municipality of Unna, 2000, ISBN 3-88474-932-3

HELLWEG - ein LICHTWEG is a modular, expansible culture project by a network of municipalities in the Hellweg region. Initiated in 2002, it brings together solitary light art projects that are already made, undergoing completion or in the planning in order to form an identity-creating whole. Furthermore, new works of light art are realised by nationally and internationally renowned artists every year. Matthias Wagner K, Berlin, held the post of overall artistic director from 2002 until spring 2009.

In partnership with the Centre for International Light Art in Unna, the HELLWEG – ein LICHTWEG project creates a unique, public platform for light art in the Hellweg region and, by extension, in North Rhine-Westphalia.

At night, the Ruhr area, part of North-West Europe’s megapolis, presents a disjointed, often dynamic pattern of lights and sweeping zones of darkness. For a number of years, though, some special lucent symbols have stood out here, akin to lighthouses: light landmarks, illuminated monuments to industry and, in particular, the not-for-profit Centre for International Light Art, one of 25 anchor points of the Route der Industriekultur which, with their luminescence, have not only lent the nocturnal Ruhr area an altered character – and hence the state of NRW a new profile – but shine into the region that extends eastwards from the Ruhr area from Lünen and Schwerte in the west to Lippstadt in the east – the Hellweg region. A region whose naming refers to the trading route which, up until incipient 19th century, developed into one of the most important east-west links in Central Europe, and in linguistic and geographic symbolism alike (the term ‘Helwech’ originates from Middle Low German and means >> bright path

HELLWEG – ein LICHTWEG is a culture project which, since its initiation in 2002, has been bringing together solitary light art projects already existing, undergoing completion or are being planned in order to form a whole that creates an identity for the region. Under an overall Artistic Directorship comprising the representatives of the towns and municipalities, the Zentrum für Internationale Lichtkunst e.V. and the ZIB in Unna, along with guest curators, the project instigates new light designs. In a particular, thematically attractive way it plays a part in illustrating the region’s cultural side to the public and establishing light art as a core element of the region and, by extension, North-Rhine Westphalia.

HELLWEG – ein LICHTWEG defines itself as a modular, expansible system which, together with the Centre for International Light Art in Unna, creates a unique, public platform for light art throughout North-Rhine Westphalia.

At the same time, the ‘Lichtweg’ that has been produced so far is no conventional sculpture garden where we wander from artwork to artwork. There can be no replacements for the works of art light that comprise it. These are artworks by artists who have engaged with the location at hand. With the architecture and landscape structure found there, with the social milieu, with the historical and present-day sensory contexts, with what shaped these locations, makes them unmistakeable and unique. These are artworks which can be experienced only via their surroundings, because they form a coexistence with the latter: with the architecture, the landscape, history, past and present and, not least, the life of the people in their proximity:

As light landmarks – M. KUBALL/Bönen, Mario MERZ/Unna – they afford orientation in the urban and rural space; as poetically sublime, ironic or time-critical interventions – Maik & Dirk LÖBBERT/Schwerte, Kirsten KAISER/Hamm, Birgit HÖLMER, Andreas M. KAUFMANN/Berg Kamen, Kazuo Katase/Lünen – they celebrate urban places; or they form, as light and sound sculptures – Tilmann KÜNTZEL/Fröndenberg, Rochus AUST/Bergkamen – utopian, associative counter-worlds at the heart of everyday occurrences. Bridges and underpasses appear in a ‘new’ light – Horst RELLECKE, Günter DOHR/Hamm, watercourses are transformed into sculpture trails or, as in Lippstadt, into a ‘light promenade’ – Claudia SCHMACKE, Gereon LEPPER, Christoph HILDEBRANDT, Stefan SOUS, Claudia WISSMANN, Gunda FÖRSTER, OFFERMANN. Furthermore, with the ‘Skyspace – Camera obscura space’ in Unna by James TURRELL, one of the most significant works of space-consuming light art was created.

Matthias Wagner K

‘What remains? Will we manage to permanently alter ways of seeing? Was the International Building Exhibition IBA only a flash in the pan, a spent force once the funds had run out? If “Neues Licht” is meant to bring about a “New Vision” in and of NRW, continuity is required, permanent ongoing communication to the region and out beyond the Ruhr area. If the concern is to re-sharpen NRW’s state profile using light, the IBA cannot stand by itself.’ – wrote Peter M. Kleine in a summary about the IBA in 2002.


Today, 4 years on, the answer to the queries raised by Peter M. Kleine and other, frequently asked questions – Where is the voice of regional towns and municipalities to be found? Where is society and its culture evident – its art, its pausing, its pondering and considering? Where does it appear offensively and thereby evince curiosity? – could be:

H E R E !

Here in the Hellweg region. With the project HELLWEG – ein LICHTWEG. With artworks that not only generate attention, but simultaneously clear the view onto a cultural region made conspicuous by rural, urban and cultural specificities. After all, with a project which, by implication, employs targeted localisation that enables the region to present itself inwardly and outwardly in a new and diverse way, the works of light art and associated events also draw the focus onto those locations which do not otherwise get noticed by visitors from outside.

The Hellweg region thereby acquires a new mise-en-scene culturally and touristically, and, via light art, conveys into new contexts of significance those towns and municipalities which, due to structural change, lost their erstwhile attribution of meaning.

To an extremely high standard, the artists invited in recent years, predominantly residents of NRW, have reacted to something which is likewise to be found to increased extents in any other location. Because spaces of thought and recollection are required at other locations too, the dichotomy of nature and technology is reflected on elsewhere as well, and the desire for a new, societal utopia is arising. And because even the provinces are part of a large whole: Hellweg region – Ruhr area – North Rhine-Westphalia – Germany – Europe – World.

Thanks to the spirit of active citizens, the works of light to be found in the Hellweg region, in the province, have evolved into artworks that are capable of carrying the uniqueness of this region – a region visibly undergoing transformation, yet not tearing out its historical roots but offering them invitingly with LUMINOUS art – into the outside world.

Matthias WAGNER K (künstlerischer Leiter des Kulurprojektes, 2002 – 2009)