Two Sisters is a project about Julia’s grandmother Viktoria Otto (nee Probst) and her sister Martha Hecker (nee Probst). It is in three parts, with multiple visual narratives.
Part One: ‘Two Sisters’
‘Two Sisters’ is an engagement with family documents; photographs, letters and objects that have remained in Julia’s family from the war years. Her visits to archives in Berlin, London and the Isle of Man have resulted in the discovery of further material relating to the experiences of Martha and Viktoria during WWII.
There is an epilogue to Part One, which is about the present day. Julia was eight when Martha died and photographs, documents, letters, voice recordings, and a handful of objects are the only personal items that remain. Viktoria, her grandmother, is now 88. She is the last surviving sibling from a family of five. Julia wanted to portray her grandmother as she is today, alongside some of her personal possessions. Martha is represented through her red slippers and an old snapshot from 1964 of her and her husband, Hugo.
Part Two: ‘Berlin’
‘Berlin’ mediates Viktoria’s personal memories of her eight year stay in Berlin during WWII through a sequence of images Julia made in Berlin. Having been told some of her grandmother’s stories and memories, Julia wanted to grasp fragments of the past, and photograph some of what remains from that past. Her grandmother worked for the German central railway authority as a secretary between 1943 and 1944, and she was haunted, throughout her various stays in Berlin, by images of train deportations to concentration camps in the East. Berlin had three central departure points: the railway stations Gruenewald, Anhalterbahnhof and Putlitzbruecke. Fleeting images of Berlin, taken through windows, mainly from trains and streetcars, express Julia’s desire to grasp memories and at the same time reflect on the inaccuracy of memory. What does remain in Berlin are sites of memory, such as the ruin of the Anhalterbahnhof, once one of the busiest train stations in central Berlin, from where many train deportations took place.
Part Three: ‘Isle of Man /London’
‘Isle of Man /London’ is a sequence of images which was inspired by the war time experiences of Julia’s great aunt Martha. Within just a few years Martha, who had been a domestic worker in London and Nottinghamshire became an “enemy alien” and prisoner in Holloway Prison, London; was interned on the Isle of Man, and upon her release joined the ATS as a lorry driver transporting ammunition to support the British War Effort. During internment, Martha did a lot of embroidery work and a handkerchief, onto which she embroidered all the sites of internment, remains an important document. In the summer of 2002 Julia went to the Isle of Man to try to reconstruct Martha’s journey. Arriving in Douglas by ferry, she travelled on the same steam train from Douglas to Port Erin that Martha would have travelled on. Expecting a grey, windswept landscape, Julia was overwhelmed by the island’s enormous beauty. The only visual evidence that this island, referred to during WWII as the “island of barbed wire” had been the home of up to 30.000 internees, was some rusty wire found just outside Port Erin. Julia combined contemporary images with film stills, taken from a 1938 tourism film promoting the Isle of Man. These images were then projected onto Martha’s handkerchief to create a textured effect. The handkerchief became the “container” of all the disparate visualisations of mediated memories. The symbolism of the white handkerchief interested Julia in this context, as it condenses a whole range of emotions: it is used in mourning; to wave farewell; as a signal of surrender and as a symbol of hope. She was also interested in exploring the idea of veiling: the un-representability of her great aunt’s experience, and her own desire to find a way of revealing a glimpse of that experience.