The red tree and human emotions on the last day of Göteborg Book Fair

As the 2011 Göteborg Book Fair drew to a close on Sunday, the last seminar in the stand of the Swedish Arts Council was entitled Art + Natural Science = True?. The well-attended seminar was dedicated to the pictorial worlds of 2011 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award recipient Shaun Tan, and asked the questions: what happens when art and natural science meet, and how does the natural science researcher look upon the work of the artist?

Lennart Eng, illustrator and member of the ALMA jury, talked to Professor of Integrative Medicine and author Martin Ingvar, in a discussion that centered on the picture book Det röda trädet (Kabusa Böcker, 2011, original title The Red Tree), written and illustrated by Shaun Tan.

Martin Ingvar explained how our brains are designed to identify things that are threatening and dangerous, and pointed out that the book contains a lot of dark emotions. Lennart Eng said that Shaun Tan initially intended to portray positive emotions as well as the darker and more depressive spectre of human emotions. But as his work progressed he found the negative emotions of, for example loneliness and depression more interesting to focus on. According to Martin Ingvar it is important when it comes to children to put illustrations that may be perceived as frightening in their right context. This way the darker images signifies more than just hopelessness.

Martin Ingvar and Lennart Eng also discussed how the details work together to create the whole, represented by the little red leaf that appears on every turn of the page in Det röda trädet as a symbol of hope. Lennart Eng pointed out that many times when reading this book for the first time, it it the children that are first to percieve this detail, this symbol of hope, in the book.

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