Beyond the Lines
The picture from Vitvivan & Gullsippan by Pija Lindenbaum shows a clear line on the ground. It was put there by Topdog. “It’s dangerous beyond that line”, the text tells us. “Anything can happen.” What is beyond the line? What happens when you ignore boundaries and allow yourself to also explore the incomprehensible, the difficult, the unknown?
Pija Lindenbaum, Anna Höglund and Ida Sundin Asp are picture book creators who repeatedly, and with a sense of curiosity, step over that line. In an age where the view on what is appropriate culture for children is narrower than it has been in a long time, they create picture books that address all of life. Their stories include both darkness and light, order and chaos, humour and seriousness. They don’t shield the reader from what’s difficult. They tackle it head on, and help us try to understand.
“When I hear the title Beyond the Lines, I think of all the different layers in a picture story. What lies beneath the surface, which each reader can pick up and interpret in their own individual way.”
– Ida Sundin Asp
A beloved grandfather has dementia and is trying to find himself in Ida Sundin Asp’s Idag vet jag inte vem jag är (Today I Don’t Know Who I Am). A highly sensitive rabbit sits alone on a subway platform, looking at other people’s belonging in Anna Höglund’s Om detta talar man endast med kaniner (This Is Something You Only Talk About With Rabbits). In Pija Lindenbaum’s Pudlar och pommes (Poodles and Fries), someone has thrown a big rock into the pool and broken it. Or is it a bomb? As the dogs set out to sea in a small boat to find somewhere new to live, there are clear parallels to reality. The pictures depict complex issues and difficult life events, and the stories touch readers of all ages. Who’s that looking back in the mirror? Where do all these strange doors lead? And what is it we’re constantly waiting for?
The colours range from bright yellow and raspberry red, to the grey January sky.
Picture books often have a dual audience. The typical reading situation is where a child listens to an adult reading out loud, perhaps at bedtime. They are both looking at the image, but do they see the same thing? This exhibition wants to explore that idea: who is the picture book for, really? What does it tell me, and what does it tell you?
“I think it suits me to work with visual storytelling in combination with text, and to try to see life through a child’s eyes, without experience or defined boundaries between imagination and reality.”
– Pija Lindenbaum
As adults, it is easy to approach picture books the way we usually read books: following the text from beginning to end. But if you watch a child with a picture book, they may well tackle the experience in a completely different way: starting from the back, looking at random pages in no particular order, getting caught up in a picture’s tiny details, and letting their imagination run off in completely different directions. The exhibition also asks the question, what happens to the picture book when the text is removed? What kind of stories develop before us when there’s no longer a text to follow?
Pija Lindenbaum has said that she wants to depict “the children who don’t smile”. Her characters are often quiet observers with cautious eyes. The ones who don’t readily stroke strange dogs. Do these unsettled, non-smarmy children make the adult world feel uncomfortable? And what impression does the adult world make on these observing children?
Anna Höglund’s Barnet som inte kunde blunda (The Child Who Couldn’t Close Their Eyes) is about a child that can’t shut off from the state of the world. The child’s all-seeing eyes seem to grow darker and sadder with every turn of the page, and they would like nothing better than to be able to close their eyes. But is that the solution? This is an idea that runs through this entire exhibition. There are all kinds of things we instinctively prefer to shield our children from: mental health issues, war, injustice, illness and the abuse of power. These picture books do not sidestep these aspects of life; they hold our hand as we approach them. Perhaps they help us to deal with them, rather than close our eyes.
“If ever anything goes beyond the lines, that makes me happy, naturally. If something resonates with me deep down. Even so, quite a few lines end up in the bin."
– Anna Höglund
About the artists
Anna Höglund (b. 1958) is one of Sweden’s leading illustrators and has won a raft of prestigious awards over the years, both in Sweden and internationally. You never quite know what you’re going to get when you open a book by Anna Höglund. The main character could be an ordinary middle-aged man, or it could be Jean-Paul Sartre portrayed as a pike. There are liberal references to literary history and the modern age, and anything can happen in the pages. In “Barnet som inte kunde blunda” (“The Child Who Couldn’t Close Their Eyes”), she depicts a child who can’t shut off from the state of the world; in the picture book “Look Hamlet”, what is perhaps Shakespeare’s best-known character gets into bloody sword fights, and there are direct parallels between “Didi och Gogo väntar på bussen” (“Didi & Gogo Wait for the Bus”) and Samuel Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot”. In her poetic picture book “Om detta talar man endast med kaniner” (“This Is Something You Only Talk About With Rabbits”), she explores the life and thought world of a highly sensitive rabbit. Each book by Anna Höglund has its own unique pictorial universe and visual language.
About the artists
Pija Lindenbaum’s (b. 1955) books are psychological dramas filled with humour and originality. Reality and fantasy often come together, and the child’s perspective consistently shines through, both in the image details and in her choice of words. During the years, she has gone from depicting a specific child to telling about an entire collective. True of all of them, though, is that children are allowed to be themselves. A grumpy person doesn’t have to be transformed and become a happy person, a shy person doesn’t have to become an extrovert. She likes to depict sullen, slightly different children, as those are the ones she finds it easiest to understand. But whoever she’s writing about, she always deals with complex matters like class, power, mental health issues and politics.
About the artists
Ida Sundin Asp
When Ida Sundin Asp (b. 1990) published her first picture book, “Idag vet jag inte vem jag är” (“Today I Don’t Know Who I Am”), it garnered attention and received positive reviews. The book, described as a wistful and humorous portrait of a forgetful grandfather who rediscovers his life every day, was nominated for the August Prize in 2016. Ida Sundin Asp She explores different aspects of what it means to be human. She is also drawn to making stories without any deep undertones, that are “just nice and fun, or sad and horrible”. The subject can be anything, the key is to give the reader an experience.