Future Library Forest

Sunshine in its sudden summer glory, immense beautiful sky, greenery everywhere and some stubborn snow on the ground because it’s still May. So many people. Smiling, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, then walking towards a small clearing in the forest which became a quiet but powerful symbol of current unstable times and of the unknown future. We don’t know what kind of future it will be or whether there will be a future. And for whom? How will the world / the globe evolve in the next decades? Can we predict or expect anything at all? However, the uncertain is a part of the appealing mystery of the Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s 100-year living artwork, a project which started in 2014 and which grows and changes naturally each year and each season from the moment the first of a thousand trees has been planted in Nordmarka, a forest just outside Oslo. In 2114 the trees will be cut, pulped, turned into paper. The idea of an anthology containing one hundred texts, unread and unpublished until then, seems both radical and super cool, relaxing. The physical books made from trees grown in our time will be printed for the new generation. Before that materializes, a writer is invited to contribute a text each year.

Last Sunday an international crowd gathered at the meeting point to walk together to this special place. Writers, translators, enthusiasts, readers, council workers, adults, children and dogs. Marianne Borgen, the Mayor of City of Oslo, and Anne Beate Hovind, Chair of the Trust. Amongst the estimated four hundred people there was also The Crown Princess Mette-Marit, who joined this year’s authors on their forest walk, is an ambassador for Norwegian literature abroad, and takes a special interest in this topic. Her dog, on the other hand, wasn’t that concerned about handover ceremony and all this quiet sitting on the ground…

Anne Beate Hovind stands behind a new tree. On the bench are: Katie Peterson, Judith Schalansky, The Crown Princess Mette-Marit, Ocean Vuong, and Mayor of Oslo Marianne Borgen.

The author invited to contribute a text for 2023 is Judith Schalansky. She was born in 1980 Greifswald in former East Germany and studied art history and communication design. She works as a writer and a book designer in Berlin, where she is also the curator of a prestigious natural list. Her work has been widely acclaimed and translated into more than 25 languages. She has been awarded The Most Beautiful German Book of the Stiftung Buchkunst twice: in 2009 for the international bestseller Atlas of Remote Islands and in 2011 for The Giraffe’s Neck. The Outer Main-belt asteroid 95247 Schalansky (asteroid!) was named after her. In 2021 she was awarded the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation for the book An Inventory of Losses. During the simple handover ritual, and later at the Deichman Library, Judith Schalansky talked about her understanding and meaning of a forest which is a place of transition and transformation; a place which nobody leaves unchanged. To go into the forest means to go to another space and this process forces people to be open to a new experience. We know many stories both for children and adults where such ventures had a profound effect on lives.

Vietnamese-American Ocean Vuong, an award-winning poet, essayist and novelist born in 1988 in Saigon, Vietnam, was chosen for the year 2020. Pandemic and then covid got in the way and he couldn’t travel to Norway before. Ocean Vuong lives in Massachusetts where he serves as an Associate Professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at UMass-Amherst. He is the author of The New York Times bestselling novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, a recipient of a 2019 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant, and the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds. Ocean Vuong’s initial Future Library thoughts revolved around a big question: what can anyone write that would be worthy and deserving of future? This project is so hopeful and with blind faith, that it demands all of us to commit.

What I found fascinating was that both Judith Schalansky and Ocean Vuong think so much about death but not in the traditional scary way. According to Schalansky death is the last taboo: an unknown empty space, a precondition for everything else, and everyone signed this particular contract simply by being born because that’s what awaits. Vuong considers death to be a special kind of archive which contains language, the oldest powerful technology used by humans to convince others to live or die, to protect or destroy. And all language is political but not inherently violent; not good or bad, it is just a tool.

The Future Library / Framtidsbiblioteket authors cannot say what their writing is about; but they are allowed to reveal a title. Ocean Vuong’s text is named King Philip. Judith Schalansky’s work is called Fluff and Splinters: A Chronicle. Surprising, intriguing and so tempting to speculate which these works might be about.

What next? Same place, same time next year. New author, new title, new thoughts. Same old forest taking care of itself and of its surroundings, of new trees. There is hope and expectation. There are connections between people who are fascinated by this unique art project and by the raw clean power of nature. Future Library as a concept is in progress. Manuscripts are kept in the specially designed glass boxes in a physical space at the Oslo’s public library. The Trust has responsibility to the next generations. Oslo City Council granted permission for using the space and secured legal protection of the area for the benefits of the Trust. Future Library as the real experience is accessible to all: the Silent Room in Deichman Bjørvika Library is free to enter. The forest is just a forest where people and animals are welcome any time. I’m getting philosophical… You must visit the Future Library Forest. Bring your coffee and a sandwich, and enjoy the singing silence.

Buddhist chant
(C) Frederik Ringnes

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