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Jan von Holleben: Lily & Jonathan

Posted by Rob Alderson,

There can be few more stressful things for a child – or their family – than a stay in hospital but photographer Jan von Holleben is doing his bit to help with his biggest ever project, having just installed massive new pieces at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Children’s Hospital. The magical tales of children’s adventures – in space and underwater – have already been a big hit, both with the youngsters and those trying to help take their minds off their ordeals.

The panels follow the fun, fantastic tale of Jonathan and Lily and their journey from the depths of the oceans to the outer reaches of the universe, meeting and greeting some new friends along the way.

First conceived in 2011, Jan spent several weeks as an artist in residence at the hospital where he spoke to doctors, therapists, play specialists, art coordinators, nurses, anesthetists, porters, plus of course patients and their parents, to gather initial ideas, and he shot the pictures at his Berlin studio with the help of a gaggle of kids.

“There were nine screaming, happy, candy-eating kids on the floor, tons of toys, my assistant and my camera,” Jan told It’s Nice That.

Lily and Jonathan comprises 315 individual photographs and more than 40 composite panels but Jan’s delight with the final pieces suggests the hard graft was more than worth it.

“This was by far the largest and most rewarding project to date for me. Working with an enormously varied group of people from doctors to patients and porters who push the beds down the corridors made this a complete commission.

“Being able to incorporate so many different ideas and fusing them with my personal storytelling is an incredible experience! I am utterly proud having created this work for such a tragic and emotionally-loaded environment. I hope that anyone – and particularly the kids – walking down this corridor will be able to dream a little bit.

“The project’s story was designed so that it mirrors the child’s own journey into the surgery room, therefore helping to construct individual stories for each child.

“In this way the children can drift away into the fantastic stories at just the right time. It is my biggest hope that the kids can relate to the story and be therefore distracted from their fears of the surgery.”

And Erica Watson, senior play specialist at the hospital agreed the new works served as “a great distraction.”

“We talk about coat hangers being used for birds and socks for fish and trying to see if there are pairs of socks. We also follow the children’s journey either diving into the sea or going up into space and when we reach the end of the pictures I tell the children that they may find one in the anaesthetic room up on the ceiling and we need to look for it when we get there. The response has been very positive.”

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.