By James Gill
In Nordmarka, Norway, 30km outside of Oslo, a thousand trees have been planted for a very special purpose: the library of the future. In 2115 they will be used to make paper for a collection of books.
The Framstidsbiblioteket, or Future Library, is a 100-year project launched by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. In every year from 2014 until 2114, a notable writer will give one piece of writing, destined to remain unread until after the project has concluded. The purpose is to give readers of the future a fresh anthology of works by some of the century’s greatest writers.
Starting the Future Library off in 2014 was Margeret Atwood, five-time nominee for the Man Booker Prize, who gave a work entitled ’Scribbler Moon’. She said of the project: “Future Library is bound to attract a lot of attention over the decades, as people follow the progress of the trees, note what takes up residence in and around them, and try to guess what the writers have put into their sealed boxes.”
The second contributor, for the year 2015, was David Mitchell, who contributed a piece called ‘From Me Flows What You Call Time’. Mitchell said “Civilisation, according to one of those handy Chinese proverbs, is the basking in the shade of trees planted a hundred years ago, trees which the gardener knew would outlive him or her, but which he or she planted anyway for the pleasure of people not yet born. I accepted the Future Library’s invitation to participate because I would like to plant such a tree. The project is a vote of confidence that, despite the catastrophist shadows under which we live, the future will still be a brightish place willing and able to complete an artistic endeavour begun by long-dead people a century ago. Imagine if the Future Library had been conceived in 1914, and a hundred authors from all over the world had written a hundred volumes between 1915 and today, unseen until now – what a human highway through time to be a part of. Contributing and belonging to a narrative arc longer than your own lifespan is good for your soul.”
In 2016, Icelandic artist Sjón’s piece was ‘As My Brow Brushes On The Tunics Of Angels or The Drop Tower, the Roller Coaster, the Whirling Cups and other Instruments of Worship from the Post-Industrial Age’. Patterson, who came up with the Future Library concept said of Sjón: “Sjón creates a world of metamorphosis: his poetic works weave together history and myth, folklore, ancient storytelling, the surreal and the magical, through the language of past and contemporary Icelandic.”
His writing is dynamic and melodic, and like Future Library interlaces the human and natural world through stretches of time. In addition to writing poems, novels, plays, librettos, lyrics, and children’s books, Sjón often collaborates with other artists and musicians, so I am very excited about the possibilities his contribution will bring to this hidden library growing through the trees.”
The most recent addition to the project is Elif Shafak. Patterson spoke about Shafak saying “her work dissolves boundaries: cultural, geographic, political, ideological, religious and spiritual, and embraces a plurality of voices. Her storytelling is magical and profound, creating connectivity between people and places: a signal of hope at a particularly divided moment in time.”
The works will be kept in a purpose-built room in the New Deichmanske Public Library that will be opening in Bjørvika, Oslo. The room, designed by Patterson, will utilise wood from the forest and will try to emulate the tranquility. There will be a list of the name’s and titles of the works included in the project, however, none will be revealed until 2114.
You can watch a short video about the project, featuring Margaret Atwood, below:
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