One thousand spruce saplings are growing in a forest just outside of Oslo, Norway and in 100 years those same trees will be turned into paper for a special collection of books.
The trees were planted about three years ago as part of a project called the Future Library.
It’s the brainchild of Scottish artist Katie Paterson.
“Future Library is a living, breathing, organic artwork, unfolding over one hundred years.”
About six years ago Paterson proposed the idea to Anne Beate Hovind, who is now the chair of the Future Library Trust.
When Paterson initially proposed the idea of acquiring part of a forest, tearing down old trees and planting 1,000 new ones, Beate Hovind admits, the task sounded daunting. But the plan eventually came together.
“Future Library is a living, breathing, organic artwork, unfolding over one hundred years,” Paterson writes on the Future Library’s website. “It will live and breathe through the material growth of the trees — I imagine the tree rings as chapters in a book. The unwritten words, year by year, activated, materialized.”
Each year, from 2014 to 2114, an author will contribute a manuscript to the project, but there’s one major caveat: No one can read the books until they are published 100 years from now.
Those manuscripts will be held by the Future Library Trust and stored in a specially designed room in Oslo’s New Deichmanske Library, which is set to open in 2020.
Beate Hovind explained that the special room will be built using the old trees that were cut down to make room for the saplings they planted.
“The authors’ names and titles of their works will be on display, but none of the manuscripts will be available for reading – until their publication in one century’s time,” the Future Library’s website explains.
So far, three authors — Canadian poet Margaret Atwood, British novelist David Mitchell and Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón — have contributed to the collection. Turkish novelist Elif Shafak recently signed on as well.
Beate Hovind said many of the authors have actually liked the fact that their work won’t be read until long after they’ve died.
“They think it’s great, they won’t know what the critics will say,” Beate Hovind said. “They kind of feel totally free.”
Each of the authors is tasked with producing a work “in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.”
Beate Hovind said she sees the project as a gift to future generations.
“Another thing is trust,” Beate Hovind said. “I’ve been asked many times, ‘How can you be sure that someone will look after this project when you’re dead?'”
To that, she said, it’s important not only for her to put trust future generations but also for future generations to put trust in what they’re doing.
Beyond that, Beate Hovind said the Future Library is also a good reminder to stay connected to nature.
For now, the authors will continue handing over their manuscripts to the Future Library Trust each year in the same forest where the trees that will provide paper for those books are still growing.