Future Library; A Forest to Be a Library in 100 Years
A project intended to span a century speaks to the value of books over the course of its creation, one that begins with a seed germinating in the ground.
The process implied in the existence of a book begins with an idea developed by a writer. Then follows a book’s correction, its editorial design, publication, and distribution. And finally, a book comes into contact with its readers. Before all of this, though, several other steps are often forgotten. These begin with the germination and growth of the tree which will eventually be transformed into the blank page onto which the book’s very characters will be printed. Scottish artist Katie Paterson and her Future Library (an artwork to last at least a century) tell this remarkable story while reminding us of the importance of caring for the world’s forests.
The project began in Norway in 2014 with the planting of a forest of 1,000 trees which are, today, some three years old. Eventually, these trees will be transformed into an anthology of one hundred books to be published 100 years from now on the paper produced from the trees. Every year from now until then, the Future Library Trust will choose an author to contribute a manuscript which no one will see until the year 2114 (the only thing released is the title of the work, the name of the author, and the text’s extension). The trust will then be charged with cutting the trees and turning them into the paper to be used for the 100 volumes of this strange anthology.
The trees grow in a forested area of Nordmarka on the outskirts of Oslo. The forest that had been cleared for the project provided the wood currently being used to build a new public library to open its doors in 2019, and including a room specially reserved to house the manuscripts of the Future Library project. The books in the collection are to be displayed within light boxes and placed on the walls within the room. The forest where the small trees are now growing is visited regularly and is already considered something of a sacred forest.
To date, four books have been commissioned. Artists include Margaret Atwood, the English novelist David Mitchell, Icelandic writer Sjón and Elif Şafak. The authors are chosen, annually, from a previously selected list of writers. Selection criteria for inclusion by the Future Library Trust include the authors’ contributions to both prose and poetry. In the future, when the material is to be printed, the trust is to make decisions about publication and editing, printing and distribution. The delivery of every new manuscript is to take place at a ceremony in the forest during the spring of each year.
Only a deep love for books and what they convey (imagine the ice books of artist Basia Irland) could conceive of a project like this one. It’s a project begun with the confidence that someone else will continue once its creator has died. It’s also the beginning of a dialogue with those who will inhabit the planet 100 years from now. But what’s more, Future Library speaks to the value of books as handicrafts – recalling the medieval books written and illustrated by hand. It’s a work of art that breathes and grows, and which invites us care for the planet while imagining future generations, an exquisite corpse of texts which assumes that in a hundred years, both books and forests will continue to exist (a wonderful idea). It’s a forest of the future but one which also speaks to us of the passage of time and of patience, reminding us that nearly everything worthwhile in life takes time.
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