Published November 10, 2016
In 2014, Scottish artist Katie Paterson launched a 100-year art project called The Future Library. One writer a year, starting in 2014, will contribute a written work, which will then go into a trust, until all 100 are published together as an anthology of books in the year 2114. This ambitious, century-spanning artwork began with the planting of 1000 trees in a forest just outside of Oslo. In 2114, wood from those trees will be used for both the paper to print the books, and to construct a new room in the City of Oslo library—touted as a ‘library of the future’, and due to open in 2019—where they will be stored.
The first two writers to take part were Margaret Atwood in 2014, and David Mitchell in 2015. The third was recently revealed as Sjón, the prize-winning Icelandic author behind “The Blue Fox” and, most recently, “Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was.”
“It’s an interesting challenge to grapple with writing for my readers in 2114,” says Sjón, his eyes twinkling with excitement at the prospect. “Do I write something that might be relevant to them? Do I write something relevant to now, making the text itself a time capsule? Or do I simply write something that is a part of my general oeuvre as an author?”
The only clue Sjón, or anyone, gets about the previous writers’ work is their books’ titles. Margaret Atwood’s contribution was revealed to be called “Scribbler Moon,” and David Mitchell’s “From Me Flows What You Call Time.”
“I can look at the titles of the works they handed over, and try to guess what they’re working with,” says Sjón. “Maybe Margaret is working with futuristic mythological elements, or maybe David is working with time. It’s nice that they tell you the titles. But one thing you never want to be as an author is obvious. I don’t want to be obvious now—or in 2114.”
One interesting aspect of the Future Library is how literature itself might evolve during the 100 year timespan. “There are 97 authors out there in the future who’ll take part,” says Sjón. “We will see in the next few years who of our contemporaries are added to the library. But, we have no clue what writers there will be in 60 years time. What will writing be like then? Will it move from books? I’m not sure we will leave the book behind, simply because it’s such a wonderful interactive tool for delivering text. But it’s possible that other forms of preserving and distributing have come to the forefront.”
Despite an obvious love for the printed book, Sjón is very aware that advances in technology could make them anachronistic objects by 2114. “It’s possible that it will be a unique event to make books like they made 100 years ago,” he says. “It’s even possible they’ll have been experimenting with iBooks, where you upload text that appears, so you can have the experience of turning pages.”
“We’ll see,” says Sjón, before bursting out laughing.
“Or, no, actually, we won’t!”
Find out more about The Future Library here.