Dear Reader*(2019) 

︎︎︎by Jose Hopkins for the exhibition “Remnants of a Moment” by Geertje Brandenburg in Kunstliefde - Utrecht


Dear reader,

A few months back, I found myself going through some letters my grandfather wrote towards the end of his life. In them, he was retelling his time as a forced labourer in Germany between 1943 and 1945. I was, and still are, fascinated by how these experiences lingered in him after so many years. As I go through his words, I wonder how much of them still live outside these pages. Are the people he met, the hospitals he lived in, the streets he walked on, still there? Do they remember him as much as he remembers them? Or perhaps these questions are more about myself, about how much his past is in my present. As I read these words, I feel confronted with parts of me that are not solely mine. Have I inherited something else besides a name?

In January 2021, I travelled to Germany, trying to answer these questions. I had to go back to where his letters took me. Unsettled, his typed words resonated in me like memories that are my own. I was retracing his steps, trying to find remains of him in the places I read about. I felt I was on the same streets he walked on and the same buildings we lived in. But these feelings are not solely mine; they are echoes of different moments touching. When I went to Germany, I expected to find remains of my grandfather’s past. But what I found was a complicated present holding lost memories and an experience filled with impersonal fictions.

Tentatively and curiously, with this project, I am suggesting that, in some ways, my grandfather and I share parts of each other. We both are part of these letters, of this trip, of the collages you are looking at. The boundaries between generations are porous. I see myself in the places, people and emotions he turned into words which I still (re)visit. Words I cut open, I examine and reassemble, piecing together shared memories. Cutting is an act of aggressive transformation, but it is also the process of healing and regrowth. 

What you are experiencing is part of my journey to find a place for myself. It’s the (re)creation of memories and stories that, although oscillate between facts and fictions, hold warm truths. It’s a way to understand how I’m enmeshed in the story of others. By cutting, pasting, scaling, and transforming the past, I create places where moments and people (still) live. 

This installation is similar to my grandfather’s letters; they are a place of convergence. For us both, cutting and reassembling the past made us see ourselves more clearly. With them, we transform and bring together different locations, times and persons as evidence that we are more than ourselves.