The Future Library Project

I learnt something new this weekend.

Whilst listening to a podcast with David Mitchell about his latest book, Utopia Avenue, he was asked about a not-yet-published book, called From Me Flows What You Call Time. It turns out this is a book he was invited to write by artist Katie Paterson for her Future Library Project (Framtidsbiblioteket).

Paterson, is a Scottish born artist well-known for her monumental projects that ‘consider our place on earth in the context of geological time and change.’ Her work includes broadcasting the sound of a glacier melting (2007-2008), mapping all the dead stars (2009), sending a recast meteorite back into space (2012-2014), and creating a cosmic colour wheel that captures all the colours of the universe throughout its existence (2019).

The Future Library is an artwork 100 years in the making, in Oslo, Norway. It’s a ‘living, breathing, organic artwork, unfolding over one hundred years.’

In May 2014, Paterson planted 1000 Norwegian spruce trees in Nordmarka, a forested area north of Oslo. It’s a protected green space cared for by foresters within the Agency of Urban Environment. Hikers are encouraged to walk through the forest.

The city of Oslo has guaranteed it’s support for this project during the entire 100 years via the Future Library Trust as part of their Slow Space Curatorial Vision for Oslo Harbour.

However, the artwork is not simply about growing and nurturing an urban forest. Between 2014 and 2114, 100 popular writers will be invited to submit an original manuscript to the archive. The manuscript will not be printed and published until 2114.

In 2114, the manuscripts will printed in limited edition anthologies using paper made from the 1000 Norwegian spruce planted by Paterson.

The manuscripts will be stored in a specially designed Silent Room in the New Deichman Library. The room will be panelled with wood from the forest and will display the names and the titles of each artist’s work.

Year by year, the writers’ words forming invisible chapters in the trees whose narratives will be reconstituted a century later.

During spring of every year, a special ceremony will take place where the author hands over their work to the project. It is a ritual designed to be repeated for the next 100 years. It begins with a walk into the forest with the author, who then gives a reading. The handover ceremony ends at the library, where the author participates in an ‘in-conversation’ event.

Due to Covid-19, this year’s handover ceremony with Karl Ove Knausgård, the first Norwegian to be invited to write for the project, has been delayed until the 5th of September.

So far the project has works by the following authors.

2014 – Margaret Atwood, Scribbler Moon, submitted 27 May 2015.
2015 – David Mitchell, From Me Flows What You Call Time, submitted 28 May 2016
2016 – Sjón, 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, submitted 2 June 2017
2017 – Elif Shafak, The Last Taboo, submitted 2 June 2018
2018 – Han Kang, Dear Son, My Beloved, submitted 25 May 2019
2019 – Karl Ove Knausgård

I’m disappointed that I will never get to read these stories. 
However, I do embrace the hope that this project embodies. That human beings will still be around in 100 years time, in a world still populated with forests of trees. And that these future human beings will still value reading and art.

The mandate is to compassionately sustain the artwork for its 100-year duration. The foresters have a big part to play, they tend to the trees. It’s my dream project because it’s got every aspect of what I like – the collaboration with authors, foresters and librarians. And it operates on slower time. It’s not this rush to make something for a deadline. It’s really nice to let something organically evolve. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

4 thoughts on “The Future Library Project

  1. This project sounds very cool. Despite not being able to read these works, it's like a message in a bottle to a future time right? .. when they will be printed in 2114 … hope someone will be around to do it then. Oslo is where my cousins live & are from … I've been there twice and like it much.

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  2. How fascinating! I have a special affinity for forests, for one thing, but also art and writing and trees so beautifully combined! I have lost my great affection for Margaret Atwood with her last decade of dystopian literature, and “progressive” thoughts so unaligned with mine, but I am intrigued by the authors who will be included…if only they would ask Jon Fosse, too, of The Other Name (Booker International Prize long listed).

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  3. They seem to be very good at keeping possible future writers out of the media. I couldn't even find any hints or rumours for who has been selected for this year's ceremony.

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