The urban landscape has already become what we call the standard. We live in the heart of the cities, we exploit them, while they drain our energy and patience away. We spend months stuck in traffic jams, waiting for the green light. We live in huddles in small rooms overlooking even smaller ones and dream of escaping. To other cities, which are often even more crowded, even more vibrant. And it is quite easy to overlook the fact that a city is buried not only under material accumulation, but also under layers of history.

In truth, our cities hide stories on every street corner. We step on them unconsciously every day, carried away by thoughts about an uncertain future and naively ignoring how we got here. We often think of history as those great events that have twisted the political history of the world, redrawn borders or killed thousands of people. The most relevant history is probably the unwritten and forgotten one, that of the everyday life of the cities that are our home today. The problem is, however, that we take them for granted and rarely try to find answers to questions about how they have come to look like this. One of the reasons is that not many people know these answers.

Gert Jan Kocken is an artist who seeks such answers and explores how the ideological conflicts of the twentieth century, especially World War II, changed urban settings. The Depictions… series confronts the audience with maps of impressive sizes, but at the same time utterly perplexing. Made up of overlapping segments of information – what has been destroyed, defended, abandoned or never built – Gert Jan Kocken’s maps become maps of total confusion.

The city hides many scars that make room for flowers to grow only after decades have passed. Gert Jan Kocken breaks the shell that we have become accustomed to perceiving as eternal and offers us a fresh understanding of our past and, implicitly, ourselves. A direct confrontation between past and present, between what we were and what we are today. The only question that remains is where are we heading? The artist puts together pieces of a forgotten puzzle, fragments of reality that we found it easier to forget or include in our daily routine.

Every day we pass by monuments without being aware of them or recognizing them actively. They have become nothing but landmarks on our daily routes. We step on old craters that are now covered, former cemeteries, demolished neighbourhoods. The artist saves them from oblivion and draws them on a map to the point of recognition, as a reminder that the city is alive and reacts to how we populate it, that we have a responsibility to it, although we see us as transient tenants. We leave a mark on the city for the coming generations, whether we admit it or not.