Word of Katie Paterson’s Future Library made the rounds this summer when the Scottish artist launched her 100-year-long project to build a library literally from the forest floor up. Future Library is back in the news again after it was announced this week that the first author to contribute a new work to the library will be none other than Man Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood.
Paterson is known to think big—on a geological or even astronomical scale. She embedded a cell phone in a glacier so people could call and listen to it melt; she sent a coded version of “Moonlight Sonata” to the moon, transmitted it back, and played the translated score on a piano, errors and all; and this August marked the end of the year-long orbit of her Second Moon—a piece of moon rock shipped continually around the planet via air freight courier.
This confrontation with scale, time, culture, and our human relationship to the forces of nature continues in Paterson’s latest work. In May the artist planted 1,000 new trees in a Norwegian forest gifted to her by the city of Oslo. In 100 years’ time, these trees will generate the paper for an anthology of books containing the works of 100 authors—many who aren't even born yet—whose words won’t be released or read until their 2114 publication.
Katie Paterson, Future Library, 2014-2114; Photo © MJC Commissioned by Bjorvika Utvikling and produced by Situations.
Atwood is the first of the hundred authors to sign on to the project—an additional author will be announced each year until Future Library's completion—and it's hard to think of a better inaugural contributor. The genre-defying Canadian author’s works are often written as a glimpse from the future looking back at the past and she sometimes conflates the novel itself with an artifact or cultural document—as she notably did in A Handmaid’s Tale (1985). Her more recent MaddAddam trilogy, completed in 2013, presents a pessimistic view of a near and possible future from the perspective of survivors of a man made plague.
Atwood said the project appealed to her immediately, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise given her unique contribution to the literary canon. Future Library will turn her writing into a discrete document for future discovery. She’ll turn over her manuscript in May 2015 and it will ultimately be entrusted to the new Deichmanske Public Library in Bjørvika, Oslo, where it will remain tantalizingly unread in a sealed box until publication in a century’s time.
On her invitation to join Future Library Atwood said: “I am very honored, and also happy to be a part of this endeavor. This project, at least, believes that the human race will still be around in a hundred years!”
[Image at top: Margaret Atwood and Katie Paterson Photo © Giorgia Polizzi Future Library is commissioned by Bjorvika Utvikling and produced by Situations.]