In the Workshop with Jan von Holleben
by Nina Holland
Jan first came to visit us in Los Angeles in 2006. He proposed to make a kosmos in which each planet would function according to a different photographic or optical principle. Jerry and I accepted the project for development as a Little Steidl book, and Jan bounced back to Berlin (in the particular way that he bounces), where he gathered together a crew of helpers, some boxes of props, and a couple of cameras. Several months later, he returned to us with a large collection of photographic images: the raw materials for several planets.
In the course of building his kosmos, Jan found that he had instinctively slipped into a character: a contemporary version of the kind of broad-minded, exuberant polymath one finds throughout the history the 17th century. He is at once the inventor and the discoverer of his kosmos. What he creates himself becomes the object of his next discovery. He feels uncomfortable with any direct references to god or to the cosmos. His own kosmos is spelled with a K and is something quite different.
This spirit of discovery is to be passed on to the reader as a challenge of observation. The reader detects the operational principle behind each planet by looking closely. No explanations are provided.
Construction and Design
Normally when we begin a book, Jerry Sohn and/or I have already spent years or decades in dialogue with the artist. Our bookmaking relationship began fresh with Jan, and the development phase was unusually complicated and protracted as a result.
In this case, I used the bookmaking process as a first path into the mind and visual vocabulary of the artist, which, for me, is not ideal. A book is a complex object, and it was a burden to place it center stage as I developed an understanding of Jan’s work. During the ten-year development cycle of Kosmos, I could not have learned everything I needed to know from the bookmaking process alone. The rich friendship and dialogue that Jan and I developed away from the book project was critical to finally bringing Kosmos into its correct form.