Excited and with some sense of urgency I wanted to arrive on time. To be in the forest when it happens. To join people who are passionate about books, writing, nature, and art that is both lofty and accessible. To celebrate freedom of enjoying clean air and open spaces. It rained a bit and the sun didn’t appear often in the mostly grey sky yet a relaxed crowd of people gathered near the metro station, drank coffee and then walked towards the small clearing in the forest. Adults, children, dogs. Volunteers, artists, readers, council employees. There the handover ceremony was about to start…Yet months after this special event which took place in June 2022 I am only now writing about that quiet ritual in the modern noise. I’ve been thinking about the Future Library a lot though, especially in the midst of darkness and cold as some of the young trees experience their first winter. But as the tress grow the time becomes irrelevant…
Forests and woodland areas overlook Oslo and Oslofjord. They are indispensable around the city and provide beauty, fresh air, silence, wonder, space to be active and to be peaceful, chance to see, smell, look and enjoy true outdoor near the country’s capital yet distanced from everyday rush. One of the forests is remarkable though as one thousand trees have been planted in Nordmarka. They will grow there for an extraordinary purpose: to supply paper for a special collection of books to be printed in about ninety years’ time. In a meantime one writer every year will contribute a text, and all writings are being held in trust until the proposed date of publication 2114. That’s the idea behind the Future Library project conceived by the Scottish conceptual artist Katie Paterson who imagines and creates multilayered multimedia art projects, taking her creations and inspirations on the micro and macro scale. Like a spark she ignites fire of passion and sense of wonder. When she began envisaging Future Library, she knew that many people would have to be involved in realization of that dream: ‘It began as an idea for a book, but this one actually came off the page and became real.’
The project started formally in 2014. It’s commissioned and produced by Bjørvika Utvikling, managed by the Future Library Trust and supported by the City of Oslo and various cultural organisations. Anne Beate Hovind, who has over twenty years’ experience of commissioning and producing art in public spaces, is the Future Library’s Fairy Godmother, and combines vision, steely determination, warmth and passion. Anne Beate and Katie approach authors whose writing is connected to the notions of time, nature and long-term thinking, who want to write a book that won’t be read until the hundred-years’ project comes to completion. Of course, nobody knows what the future brings. We don’t know how the world will be shaped and understood, if the trees will grow tall and strong enough, if humans will be on this planet to enjoy works of acclaimed writers. We do know, however, that in the climate emergency and in the atmosphere of unrest and fear, we can still hope that something good and positive will emerge.
Until recently I haven’t paid much attention to the concept of cathedral thinking even though I did know that in the mankind’s history so many artists and craftsmen, especially of medieval and renaissance eras, made projects that were meant to last for centuries, to benefits next generations. ‘In the Dark Ages, architects who embarked on big projects, such as building cathedrals, knew beforehand they weren’t going to finish it. Cathedral thinking means that you take pleasure in doing things that do not immediately benefit you, but which you know future generations will be able to enjoy.’ As perMr. Sustainability. ‘Cathedral thinking, a mindset derived from medieval thinking, is about thinking in multiple generations, rather than one lifetime. When thinking in generations as opposed to one lifetime or even term, the perspective changes.’
The legendary Canadian author Margaret Atwood was the first invited to the project in 2014. She wrote the text titled Scribbler Moon. Since then more authors have written and delivered their manuscripts that are now hidden safely in the purposely designed beautiful wooden vault / Silent Room at the Deichman Public Library in Bjørvika neighborhood in central Oslo. We will never read the books, but we know some titles. From Me Flows What You Call Time by internationally renowned novelist David Mitchell (2015). 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 by the Icelandic poet, novelist and lyricist Sjón (2016). The Last Taboo by novelist, public intellectual and political commentator Elif Shafak (2017). Dear Son, My Beloved by the Man Booker prize winning South Korean novelist Han Kang (2018).
During last year’s handover ceremony three authors Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgård (chosen for 2019), critically acclaimed Vietnamese American writer and poet Ocean Young (2020) and Zimbabwean novelist, playwright and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga (2021) were invited to deliver their manuscripts. The pandemic stopped the yearly tradition of handing over manuscripts in 2020 and 2021. Covid also prevented Ocean Young from travelling to Norway for this joint ceremony. However, previously selected authors Sjón and David Mitchell attended together with Karl Ove Knausgård and Tsitsi Dangarembga. Four magnificent writers contemplated the meaning of writing, time and humanity. Hope and trust.
I write about the things that are important to me, and those are things that take place in my environment, my society. And these are not necessarily things that are important to the publishing capitals. If I started to think about writing about things that are important there, I wouldn’t write very well.Tsitsi Dangarembga on her writing and audience, and being the first person she writes for
Trees are real. Future is unknown. Writings begin in a place that can move to the new universes. Time is subjective, and a concept perceived differently in some cultures. Perceptions are individual. Together all these elements are intriguing and I do hope that Future Library of that unusual esoteric kind will survive winds of change. The trees will keep growing.
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Love this postEwa. And your yellow jacket. Love Alfred x