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Future Library: connecting literature, art and the environment

Future Library: connecting literature, art and the environment

Future Library is one of the most interesting projects happening in Europe right now that connects literature, art and the environment. Just outside Oslo, a forest is being grown from scratch. When it reaches 100 years old it will be harvested and turned into books featuring 100 different stories by 100 different writers, written specially for this project.

Already literary big hitters like Margaret Atwood, and Iceland's Sjón have written pieces for Future Library. Scottish artist Katie Paterson is responsible for the idea and here she explains the ideas behind it, as the latest writer to contribute, Han Kang, hands over his part of the manuscript. Future Library explores our relationship to forests, paper, time and the world we create.

Tell us why Future Library is happening?

“Future Library was a seed in my mind several years ago. I was extremely happy to be approached by Bjørvika Utvikling to work on a commission for Slow Space, a series of public artworks for Oslo.”

Why Oslo?

“Norway felt like the perfect place for Future Library to exist and grow. Being covered by forest, with the city of Oslo surrounded by trees, I imagined the forest may be part of people’s psyches in a more pronounced way. Perhaps a 100 year artwork might be received and thought about differently. Then Norway’s historical and contemporary literary connections, the connection with the new Library [currently being built in Oslo] and the forward looking views on nature and environment. Everything fell together.”

What does it say about our relationship to time?

“Well Margaret Atwood said this: “Katie Paterson’s artwork is a meditation on the nature of time. It is also a tribute to the written word, the material basis for the transmission of words through time – in this case, paper – and a proposal of writing itself as a time capsule, since the author who marks the words down and the receiver of those words – the reader – are always separated by time.”

Is it important to protect our forests and why?

“Future Library has nature... and the environment at its core, and involves ecology, the interconnectedness of things, those living now and still to come. It questions the present tendency to think in short bursts of time, making decisions only for us living now.”

Who has taken part so far?

“So far Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Sjón and Elif Shafak have contributed a manuscript to the project and this year the Korean author Han Kang will submit her work at special handover ceremony in the forest this May.”

Which are some of your dream writers to get?

“It is the Future Library Trust’s responsibility to select and invite the next authors for the decades to come. We are commissioning a new, original piece for Future Library by each of the 100 invited authors. The authors are being selected for their 'outstanding contributions to literature or poetry and for their work’s ability to capture the imagination of this and future generations.'”

Do you decide on the authors now or later?

“We are inviting authors year by year so the project doesn’t become static - to keep it in movement, fresh, with the authors work reflecting the contemporary moment – whether that is in the year 2015 or 2099. We are hopeful that the ideas within the artwork will resonate with the writers we invite, and that they will leave a legacy for future generations.”

Is today's writing going to be relevant in 100 years? Will we still be around?!

“One hundred years isn’t that far away. It’s on the brink of that which we can imagine. For the foresters with whom we collaborate, 100 years is a natural time frame, so they don’t blink an eye when we talk about growing this forest a century on out. But it’s also far away enough that we could be completely dumbfounded. In a way, the human scale might feel absolutely minute in the face of this vastness - but that is also part of it.”

Words: Christopher Beanland