love letters from germany

One of the opportunities I am taking advantage of while living overseas is to get my work seen outside of the United States. My first experience was really positive with A House With Four Rooms in Frankfurt. Coming up: southern France in conjunction with Marseille-Provence 2013. Each year, two cities are selected to represent Europe as Culture Capitals. Tons of arts programming revolves around this honor in the Marseille-Provence region, including the PAPer'Art Project, a year's worth of paper art exhibitions.

My work is in three exhibitions, the first of which I highlight here.

Love Letters From Germany is inspired by Albert Camus’ essays, Four Letters to a German Friend, a set of letters that Camus wrote to a German friend who had joined the Nazi party. Camus wrote the letters to explain why he was ending their friendship.

I have written four letters to real people, exploring my experience of living as an American expat in Germany with lifelong ties to France. This work is a continuation of my use of wearable paper objects to explore memory, story, and personal experiences.

"Love Letters From Germany" by Kelly O'Brien (2013)

Each object in this set is a complete letter. A hat, scarf and mittens are indispensible items I have added to my wardrobe since moving to Germany. Wrapping myself in this experience, I am trying on and wearing the expat life for now.

The letters explore the following topics:

Hat: to my German friend and fellow-artist, Anna, thanking her for her friendship. I also express my surprise at being warmly welcomed by Germans in general, a reflection of latent prejudices against Germany that I didn’t realize I held.

"Love Letters From Germany" (detail) by Kelly O'Brien (2013)

Scarf: to Jacques & Ginette, my French host-parents who live near Montpellier, and who have been like family to me since the 1980s. I ask them about their long relationship with German friends through the twin-city rapport between Montpellier and Heidelberg. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German Élysée friendship treaty signed in 1963 by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer. A recent survey exploring public sentiment in France and Germany about each other is reflected in this letter as well.

"Love Letters From Germany" (detail) by Kelly O'Brien (2013)

Mitten 1: to Friederich, an 85-year old German man who was in the German military and a prisoner of war. I ask him about this experience and what he knew, thought or did related to the Holocaust. The letter also addresses his post-war life, including a move to Peru to study art, and a distinguished career as a sculptor living in a town near my home in Germany.

"Love Letters From Germany" by Kelly O'Brien (2013)

Mitten 2: to a 19-year old girl, Martina, asking her about what it’s like to be a young person in Germany today. I’m curious about what makes young people in Germany tick, and how it might be similar or different from youth in France or the United States. Recent polls on this topic reflect that young Germans are generally a practical generation, focused on making good choices and gaining a solid education, but that there are vast discrepancies between opportunity for middle-class and poorer or immigrant youth. I ask Martina how it feels to come of age in a country with a bright future, but pressure to successfully lead the way for many others who struggle.

Through researching and writing these letters, my perspective on Germany has been updated, expanded, and become more nuanced. These are letters of affection and gratitude to the people I have met or known, as well as a reflection of a budding affection for my adopted country.

Love Letters From Germany will be on exhibit at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques d'Aix-en-Provence, Aix-en-Provence, France, March 7 - April 7, 2013.