Day 6

The Future Library Project: In 100 years, this forest will be harvested to print David Mitchell's latest work

Last week, writer David Mitchell released his latest literary work — but not to the public. It will be nearly 100 years before anyone reads the manuscript. In the meantime, it will be locked away alongside the works of other famous writers like Margaret Atwood, waiting for a Norwegian forest to grow to a point where it can be harvested for the paper to print the books. Brent speaks to Katie Paterson, the Scottish artist behind the Future Library Project.
David Mitchell hands over his manuscript to artist Katie Paterson in a ceremony for the Future Library Project. (Kristin von Hirsch / Bjørvika Utvikling)

Last week, Award-winning author David Mitchell walked into a forest just north of Oslo, Norway and surrendered his latest manuscript to a Scottish artist named Katie Paterson. 

For the next 98 years, it will remain under lock and key — unread by anyone — waiting for the trees that will one day be harvested for the paper to print it on. This is the second installment in Paterson's Future Library Project. Last year, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood contributed a text called Scribbler Moon and for the next 98 years, another writer will contribute one print and one digital copy of a new manuscript to be stored away until 2114 when the trees growing now will be cut down, harvested for pulp and turned into paper for a very special literary anthology. 

Mitchell's text is called From Me Flows What You Call Time and says he loves the idea of the Future Library Project. 

"It's trees, it's books, it's a circle, it's pulp, it's organic matter turning into this stuff [paper]," says Mitchell. "And then the words get printed on them. I love that."

This forest just north of Oslo, Norway is the site of the Future Library Project. (Kristin von Hirsch / Bjørvika Utvikling)

In an interview with Brent Bambury on CBC Radio's Day 6, Katie Paterson says the idea for the project came to her in a kind of epiphany.

"I was simply sketching tree rings and I had a vision I guess," she says. "Tree rings, chapter, paper, books, future, trees, forest, writers -- kind of all like that. And I imagined planting a forest that would grow a book over time."

A new author's work will be contributed to the Future Library Project each year from 2014 to 2114. (Katie Paterson Studio)

First the forest

"The forest to me is the art work," says Paterson, "You can kind of imagine the words growing through the trees over time. Along with the writer's words."

So to begin, Paterson secured the space, arranged for it to be cleared and then gathered a group of volunteers to plant the saplings to start the project. In the process, existing trees were felled, but she's making good use of them too.

"The trees that we felled to make space for the new ones, we're using them to build what we're calling the silent room inside the new library in Oslo, which will be built in 2019," she tells Bambury. "And it's going to hold the 100 manuscripts from each author."

An act of faith in the future

Paterson is 35 years old and unlikely to live to see the finished project, so she has created a trust to care for the forest and the texts until they are revealed to the public in 2114. And while she loves the idea of sneaking a peak at new work from two celebrated authors, she says comfortable with the idea that she never will. 

"I feel quite good about that strangely," she tells Bambury. "Part of the idea of Future Library is making an art work for a future generation, not for us."

Paterson also says the project is an "act of faith in the enduring appeal of words on paper."

"As things get more and more digital and in the cloud and intangible, will the physical book, printed on paper still exist? Hopefully it's going to be absolutely there. But if it's not this book will be almost like a future antique."