To Hans - PHmuseum

To Hans

Vivian Keulards

2014 - 2020

With this work, dedicated to my brother Hans, I break the silence and a taboo comes to an end. Hans (38) died in 2005 in a hotel room in Berlin after using drugs. We told the outside world that he died of cardiac arrest. His death is a fact, the way he died a taboo. Hans struggled with several addictions in his life. Fifteen years later, after my search for answers, I decided to share the truth.

The work illustrates my inner world during my quest. Metaphorical images about fear, loss, confrontation, helplessness, but also about love and courage to pull back the curtains. I visited Berlin and the hotel room where Hans' life ended and I studied our family albums with our photographs. The project (and book by Schilt Publishing) is a turning point and the beginning of a new page in life, without secrets.

In addition to making and collecting photo material, I visited people who recovered from addiction. They shared their life stories and tried to answer my questions. Questions I never asked Hans. Why did he get addicted yet I didn't? How do you get addicted? How does it feel? And could I have made a difference? These people, like me, care about opening up. They are all featured in my video installation (not included). I discovered that we are not that different. We have the same fears and the same desires in life. That's why it's so important to share the truth. There are still too many prejudices around addiction. It's important to depict the human side behind it. This work is not just a personal story, but it's also a call to investigate how we deal with addiction. And with 'we' I mean every one of us.

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  • Hans & Vivian (1971).
    Hans was my only sibling, almost 4 years older. He was smart, funny, well dressed, adventurous, loved movies, fishing and Chinese food. Like all big brothers he could be a big teaser and annoying, but if people were messing with me, he was the first to stick up for me. I always felt safe with Hans and was happy to have him as a big brother.

  • Hotel room Berlin.
    No matter how painful it was, I wanted to visit the hotel room in Berlin where his life ended in 2005.

  • Bell boy.
    Visiting the Berlin hotel, he was the first person to welcome us. Unintentionally he gave me the shivers, not knowing the real reason for my visit.

  • Pigeon body.
    A dead bird may seem sad or a bad sign, but actually it marks a new beginning. It symbolizes the end of something and the start of something else.

  • Pigeon head.
    Working on this series I walked a lot to clear my head. I passed this bird on my way every day and saw it become one with the earth. I kept the little skull as a relic to remember this process.

  • Breathing.
    Before opening up about our secret I was always focused on pleasing others. Because I was so occupied with other people's breathing I forgot how to breath myself.

  • View from the hotel window.
    Did he open the curtains? Do I see what he saw? How did he feel? What were his last thoughts?

  • Hotel room curtains.
    For years we kept the cause of his death and his struggle with addiction secret. It was a taboo. Fifteen years after Hans' death I decided to pull back the curtains. With all the consequences. Good and bad ones.

  • Hand in water.
    Bathing was soothing. A moment I could let go my fear and connect with my unconscious mind.

  • Dad & Hans (1967).
    Every parent hopes their child will be happy, responsible, confident and loving.

  • The bed.
    The hotel room looked like a plain hotel room at first. But it wasn't. It was thé hotel room and this was thé bed.

  • Notebook.
    There were blank notebooks all over the hotel room. That was an answer to one of my questions. I left a note in a gap between the bed and wall. To say a last goodbye.

  • Horse.
    In 2014 I didn't feel well, and decided to see a counselor to make a change in my life. In the following years I learned how my family history and the taboo took their toll on my life. I photographed the horse in this odd position just before this period. Looking back in time this was the start of a big turning point. The horse expresses how I felt.

  • Forest.
    My quest was scary, but necessary to order my thoughts and feelings. I needed answers to move forward.

  • Hans (1982).
    Looking at our photo albums I thought this period was maybe a turning point. I saw a different gaze. Hans was 15 years old in this portrait, the age when he started gambling at slot machines. At first for fun, but it developed towards a gambling addiction. He joined the GA (Gamblers Anonymous) and worked hard to get his life back together. Only a few years later he started experimenting with drugs, which slowly grew into a drug addiction.

  • Hans' appendix stitches (1976).
    Ten years after Hans' death it felt like he was erased out of my life. I had the urge to search for tangible evidence that my brother was part of my past. I remembered how I secretly visited him in the hospital after his appendix surgery. Children weren't allowed, so I needed to hide underneath his bed when the nurse came in. I was touched by finding the stitches in our family album.

  • Hat and Coat.
    My parents and my brother owned a clothing store. We were always dressed according the latest fashion: stylish and elegant. Nobody knew what was happening behind our front door. We were the best in keeping up appearances.

  • Tracks.
    Addiction is complicated. There’s not one cause. It’s a complex combination of factors in life. One of my biggest questions was why Hans got addicted yet I didn't? We come from the same nest? Now I know it can happen to anybody. We've got the same fears and same desires in life. We aren't that different.

  • Rose thorns on back.
    My childhood nightmares always ended in the same way: between my shoulder blades. That was the spot where I was bitten, scratched, stabbed or beaten. Then I would wake up with my shoulder blades squeezed together. This image was made with this memory. By making and even more by sharing this work I needed to face my worst fears: telling the truth. I symbolically grew rose thorns on my back. Standing up for what I believe in.

  • Vivian & Hans (1974).
    When I think of my brother, I think of who he was, as a human, not as an addict. His life and his death are part of who I am today. In a good way.


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