Imagine writing a book only to have it safely stored unseen by anyone for up to 100 years.
This is the reality to which famous writers and poets are subjecting their work as part of The Future Library project.
It all starts with a forest of 1,000 trees planted near Oslo, Norway, which we will be harvested in 100 years and used to print a unique anthology – for people yet to be born! The anthology will be from books, poems or texts submitted by one author per year (one piece of work only) for the next 100 years and apart from its creator no other human being alive will have seen their work.
The creator of this living conceptual artwork is Katie Paterson, a Glaswegian visual artist. Trust is central to this project: trust that there is a future; trust that there will be a future that cares about art and the written word; trust that the work will be carried on; trust that writers have handed in complete work. After all – who is to know if only a sheaf of empty pages is handed over.
Katie Paterson says that ‘tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future’.
This is the beauty about this concept; it runs contrary to all expectations and desires of writers and readers. Often the writers battle to have their work read. Readers are always eager for an immediate access to the book.
The first contributor to The Future Library was Margaret Atwood with her piece entitled ‘Scribbler Moon’. That is all we and anyone knows about the book. Although it might be a poem, a short story. No one knows.
Will her name still be known 100 years hence? Will her grandchildren or great-grandchildren attend the unveiling of the anthology in 2114?
‘I am sending a manuscript into time,’ Margaret Atwood said at the time of delivering her work to The Future Library. ‘Will any human beings be waiting there to receive it? Will there be a ‘Norway’? Will there be a ‘forest’? Will there be a ‘library’?
‘How strange it is to think of my own voice – silent by then for a long time – suddenly being awakened, after a hundred years.
‘There’s something magical about it. It’s like Sleeping Beauty. The texts are going to slumber for 100 years and then they’ll wake up, come to life again. It’s a fairytale length of time. She slept for 100 years.’
David Mitchell’s book, entitled ‘From Me Flows What We Call Time’ is the second written text secreted within what is envisaged to be a specially designated room at the New Public Deichmanske Library, Oslo. Here the name of each writer and the name of their work will be on display in front of their work, hidden from view. The famous ‘Cloud Atlas’ author found the writing process liberating and thrived in knowing he wouldn’t be alive for criticism. Furthermore he added, ‘Isn’t the prospect of a berth aboard an Ark of Literature with fellow-passengers of this calibre not a tempting one?’’
He stressed the topic of trust and belief in the future in his eloquent speech about the project.
‘Firstly, the Future Library project is a vote of confidence in the future.
‘We have to trust our successors, and their successors, and theirs, to steer the project through a hundred years of political skulduggery, climate change, budget cutbacks and zombie apocalypses.
‘We have to trust that ‘digital archeologists’ will manage to get inside ancient USB sticks.’
Luckily the latter point has been taken into consideration and alongside an easily formatted version of the written work there will also be a printed paper copy. Belts and braces!
Will these writers find a receptive audience ten decades from now? What will the future generations make of the written words? How relevant will they find the stories? What will they make of the project?
What about you? What do you think of The Future Library?
Here is a video link to video link to Katie Paterson in Norway discussing her artwork, where she says she imagines the ‘tree rings like chapters in a book’.
‘Nature, the soul, love, and God, one recognises through the heart, and not through the reason… Reason is a tool, a machine, which is driven by the spiritual fire.’ Dostoevsky