“A forest in Norway is growing. In 100 years it will become an anthology of books. Every year, a writer is contributing a text that will be held in trust, unpublished, until 2114.”
If ever there were a time to dust off that uncomfortably autobiographical manuscript, Scottish artist Katie Paterson has just gifted it to you. Paterson’s Future Library Project, which will be housed in New Public Deichmanske Library, Oslo, launched last August. It’s the type of freedom that could drive a wordsmith mad. A manuscript of any genre or length, to be published a century hence. A svelte 75, Margaret Atwood will likely not live to read a review of this work. The 2014 contributor has opted, somewhat conservatively, to produce a short story for the inaugural project.
Though the audience and physical home (the Oslo archive will not be completed until 2018) of these works do not yet exist, the project is grounded in the here and now, in the 1000 trees Paterson and the Future Library Trust have planted to source the paper the works will be printed on. “Nature, the environment [lies] 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.” Paterson estimates that this is enough for roughly 3000 anthologies.
One of the most interesting aspects of the scale of this project is the multiplicity of possible interactions and interpretations possible. Will we have enough forest left 100 years from now to justify killing off 1000 for what may be by that point a novelty item? What will the anthology look like in 50 years? How will the generational turnover affect the selection process? As William Gibson (of Neuromancer and “unevenly distributed” futures fame) reminds us, “what we think about Victorians is nothing like what the Victorians thought about themselves. It would be a nightmare for them.
Everything they thought they were, we think is a joke. And everything that we think was cool about them, they weren't even aware of.” Whatever its displacement, Paterson’s 22nd century retro futurist time capsule will serve bridge the material cultures between its node in a singularly uncanny way. I can’t wait.