Have you heard of the Future Library project by Scottish artist Katie Paterson? The concept is simple, and very beautiful.
In a Norwegian forest, 1,000 Norwegian spruces have been planted. For one hundred years they will grow. Then, in 2114, they will be cut down and made into paper, on which will be printed anthologies of 100 written works that have been locked away over the century.
Each year, a different author will contribute a written piece on the themes of imagination and time, to be held in trust and printed in 2114. So far, novelists Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell and Han Kang have given manuscripts to the project, and these are being stored at the Deichman Library, Oslo, in a room lined with wood from the forest.
No one will read these pieces until they are printed in 2114. The project’s organisers told the Guardian: ‘No adult living today will ever know what is inside the boxes, other than that they are texts that will withstand the ravages of time.’
For the writers who contribute to the project, this is a hopeful endeavour. Han Kang said she felt that ‘perhaps this project is something close to a century-long prayer’. David Mitchell said the project ‘brings hope that we are more resilient than we think: that we will be here, that there will be trees, that there will be books, and readers, and civilisation’.
I wonder about the writing experience for these authors. I imagine that it would feel liberating to write a story or a poem or a book that will not be read by anyone in your lifetime; that it may allow the writer’s inherent vulnerability and anxiety to ease. But then again, these are texts that will be read by a future generation; these are important texts that tell a story of the people of a time. Margaret Atwood said, ‘How strange it is to think of my own voice – silent by then for a long time – suddenly being awakened, after 100 years.’
Ultimately, I think all writers create in order to leave a legacy. Your art is how you express yourself to the world, and if you paint, or build, or compose, or write then you do so knowing that you can leave that piece of self-expression out there, a little piece of you that lives on when you have passed away.
Wouldn’t you love to read something that your ancestor wrote back in 1919? I know I would find that fascinating and I would treasure every word. Perhaps we should all create a Future Library of our own. Perhaps we should create something to leave behind, so that our great-great-grandchildren may know from where they have come. And in the act of writing and then preserving that writing, we commit to hope: that we, humanity, will live on and so will our art.