Creatives in profile: interview with Anne Beate Hovind, the curator of the Library of the Future

Hovind, Anne Beate

In Norway, a thousand trees have been planted in a forest just outside Oslo. In 100 years’ time, they will be used to make the paper for an anthology of books, which will form part of the so-called ‘library of the future’.

Conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, the project has captured the attention of great authors across the world, including Margaret Atwood, who was the first writer to pledge her story to the future collection.

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Planting an entire forest that will one day help make the books of the library of the future takes time. Photo credit: Bjørvika Utvikling by Kristin von Hirsch.

Yet 100-year art projects, by their very nature, take time. When you work with timescales longer than the average human life, the focus of the work shifts: it is no longer about outcomes, or about critical reception from the artistic and literary communities. Rather, it’s about the experience, and the journey, that takes everyone involved in the project along with it.

Of course, there are also certain logistical necessities that go hand in hand with creating a project of this nature. How do you convince authors to write books that will never be read in their lifetimes? How do you ensure the forest you have planted is used to make the books, and not cut down to make way for some new highway or housing development?

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How do you ensure the forest you have planted is used to make the books of the library of the future, and not cut down to make way for some highway or housing development? Photo credit: Bjørvika Utvikling by Vibeke Hermanrud.

To try and iron out some of the answers to these questions, the Nothing in the Rulebook team caught up with the project manager and curator of the project, Anne Beate Hovind.

It’s an honour to bring you this detailed interview…

INTERVIEWER

So tell us about yourself and your involvement with the Future Library project

ANNE BEATE

I’m the commissioner and the producer for the project. It’s a magical sort of idea that really challenges our concept of time, as well as of trust, and I think ultimately has a lot to say about our world, and the way we interact with it as human beings.

What I think is extraordinary about the project is the opportunity to work so closely with the artist, Katie Paterson. In a way, I sometimes have to pinch myself when I talk about how I became involved in the artwork because in a way it’s crazy – because just imagine the pitch that begins ‘I have this proposal: but it’s going to take 100 years’. That’s when you panic. Because you think ‘100 years?! Oh my god”. Then the artist says, ‘and, we’ll also need a forest’. And you know, you immediately ask yourself – where will the forest grow? Because I work in the Oslo harbour development area – where and how do you grow a forest in a harbour? And then, on top of all that, the artist says, ‘one more thing – we need authors, famous writers, who are willing to participate, because it’s their work we’re going to print, a hundred years from now’.

But even though it’s a little crazy it really is extraordinary and I actually think in my role, it’s an interesting one to see how you have the relationship between the artist and the commissioner or producer, because where the artist is creative in that kind of traditional artistic way, I’m creative in making it happen!

INTERVIEWER

The project wouldn’t happen without you!

ANNE BEATE

Well I think it’s an interesting relationship – I was actually talking about this with another friend of mine, a Norwegian artist called A.K. Dolven, and we were discussing what it means to put an artwork into the control of the producers and so on who make art ‘happen’. Because you need both the creative idea and inspiration and also that inter-displinary competence and almost entrepreneurship to make those ideas into a reality.

INTERVIEWER

You’re the curator, in a sense

ANNE BEATE

I wouldn’t call myself a curator because I’m not an artist in the traditional sense – I’m an entrepreneur first, I create start-ups. And I actually spend a lot of my time working in the construction business, which is quite crazy, but I always get into this situation where I get into the exploratory work; the ‘make things happen’ kind of work; so even though I’m in a different field of work professionally, there are elements where I work in the same way – it’s about attitude; methodology; it’s a way of working exploratively. And it’s quite similar to the way artists create art. And this is what I like to share and talk about when I give talks and stuff.

INTERVIEWER

You were in Austin, Texas, recently for the Southwest by Southwest festival. Can you tell us a little more about the talks that you give?

ANNE BEATE

I was invited there as a speaker for their official programme, and actually on the way out I was a little nervous because I’d never been there before and on my plane out the Crown Prince of Norway was on the same plane and there was a band on board and the fanfare was a little overwhelming. But once I got off the plane I realised quite quickly I was actually the only Norwegian speaker in the official programme, where I was set to appear on their ‘live’ show.

I didn’t know what to expect but it was really interesting to be a part of. I shared a few of my thoughts about what leadership is about when it comes to making things happen.

INTERVIEWER

What do you mean by that?

ANNE BEATE

Now, I think what it comes down to is approaching a new project with a kind of explorative attitude – you kind of have to have this tacit knowledge of where to start: what doors to keep open as long as possible, which ones you have to close. In my day job, there’s a lot of risk assessment involved. There’s a totally different risk-mind set involved compared to what I do in my daily life in the construction business; because in order to be innovative – in order to make innovations happen, you have to take risks, you have to be risk taking – and though you might be aware of some of the potential challenges or risks, you have to strike out and lead from the front.

INTERVIEWER

How do you identify what sort of projects you’re going to pursue with that vigour? How do you maintain the energy for it?

ANNE BEATE

I think what it comes down to is more about your attitude. In any job I do I try to make the most I can out of it. So I can do things that other people might find quite boring or not really very ‘arty’ but I don’t mind. I’m very curious. I learn everything about hospitals when I build hospitals. I worked in shipping classification for the shipping bureau and I learned a lot about that and I’ve worked at the main airport in Norway and I learned lots about that and the aviation sector and I do art – and other things – I think, because of that curiosity. If I’m curious about something or something grabs my attention, I want to find out more and I want to see where we – the project and I – can end up.

If you’re not curious about something, how can you have the passion for it, how can you find that energy? You know, that’s what it’s about. You have to know how to run a business or a project; but you also absolutely have to know how to stay with it.

INTERVIEWER

Surely that’s a really important point in this day and age because, in, for instance, London alone, there are so many different free presses or websites and magazines that start up, and they might be around for a year or two years, and then they die off – or they print one anthology and disappear. Because it’s really hard to sustain a project and keep it going, especially in the world we live in where it’s hard to keep funding coming in. And so often there’s a difficulty in building in a sustainable, long-term view to your project. That you can keep building on.

ANNE BEATE

Oh absolutely and you know, I think we might have a similar approach to you at Nothing in the Rulebook, because I like to ‘put bricks on bricks’ – that’s a saying I often use. This whole ethos really resonates with the Future Library project. What we say in Norway is ‘all wood’ – it’s wood all the way through. It’s an expression that basically means something is authentic; it’s true; it’s solid; and it has good correlation between what you say you are and what you do. And building this sort of thing takes time, it takes time and conscious effort. You have to pour yourself into it in a way and make sure your idea doesn’t just stop.

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“‘All wood’ – it’s wood all the way through” – Anne Beat Hovind. Photo credit: Giorgia Polizzi

This whole attitude can be seen in the way we approached the project too, I think. Because we don’t spend anything on communication. And Katie Paterson, who is the incredible artist behind the idea, the two of us work very intimately and very closely together. Even though the Future Library project is quite big and quite well-known in the world; it’s mostly me and her.

INTERVIEWER

So how does that work? How do you do it? Especially when it comes to first launching the project and getting people involved like Margaret Atwood.

ANNE BEATE

How do you do it? How do we do it? We just ask! It’s such a fascinating story – people ask, ‘why don’t you make e-vites when you invite people to the handover ceremonies – but I said, ‘no – I’ll do it personally’. Because I think; that’s what fascinates people. We’re not part of a big organisation. The project does not have a lot of money behind it. It’s small and grounded and goes slow. It’s personal. It’s not like this big stuck up thing. It’s exactly what it says it is.

I think when you are living in this fast living world, with all this start-up thinking it’s like something gets blown up and then just as quickly it’s like PUFF – gone. But the Future Library isn’t like that at all; it’s totally different. And I think this aspect of the project is what people really respond to and connect with, you know, because it has real meaning and authentic content and impact.

INTERVIEWER

It’s this idea of longevity being built within the project from the outset – the entire ethos of it. We live in an age where thoughts around cathedral thinking has disappeared – the idea that we used to build something that would last hundreds of years for future generations, and now, it’s the opposite…

ANNE BEATE

Precisely. And it’s interesting you mention that idea of cathedral thinking because this notion is so important. I was thinking a lot about what Stephen Hawking says about this and I totally say the exact same thing about it.

And you know the day before I was due to give the talk in Austin, Texas, Stephen Hawking died – and I was quite touched by the timing of it because I always mentioned cathedral thinking whenever I talked about the Future Library project and Hawking has been the spokesperson for this idea that we need to invest in ideas for the future, which are made and built for the generations that come after us. And so the night before I gave this talk I totally changed the start of my presentation and I started out with a quote from Hawking about cathedral thinking. And people got really emotional here – and some actually cried. It was very moving.

But this I think is what makes people feel such a connection for the project. Because people are longing for slow, cathedral thinking projects that are grounded; that are not ‘tech tech tech’.

INTERVIEWER

So what influence does technology have on our modern lives and culture, do you think?

ANNE BEATE

Well I think firstly I should say that I love tech. You know. I drive a tesla – I was the one of the first persons in Norway to buy a Tesla. In our household we have two electric cars – we don’t have gas or petrol fuelled cars. We Live in a three-generation house run by solar energy and a thermal well – we have a lot of technology. But for me, technology should only be used to facilitate my life.

INTERVIEWER

Technology is an enabler.

ANNE BEATE

Yes, exactly. It’s about being a human being and keeping hold of that. And I think people are longing for that – to be reminded of what it is to be human, forget about the other tech stuff.

INTERVIEWER

Yet we live in a world where you only have to walk down the street to see almost everyone always on their phone. Living their lives plugged in constantly to the digital world. And it can seem difficult to separate the technology that can do brilliant incredible things that bring us closer together – speeding up communication and living our lives more effectively – while of course avoiding the danger that we get sucked into this world of technology where it’s all we think about – and our social media lives take precedent over our social lives; which are actually the real, authentic parts of our lives that allow us to build real relationships with other people that last years; not seconds.

ANNE BEATE

This is why projects like this are so important for our time. Just a couple of generations back, people were thinking this way all the time. You know, you build something or plant a forest, you don’t do it for your sake – you do it for future generations.

We kind of have this fast food thinking and now we have to prepare something for the next generation. I think more people realise the world is a little lost and we need to get back on track.

INTERVIEWER

We are designed in our society to be constantly stimulated – To constantly go out and get things for ourselves and gratify ourselfs and just go, go, go, all the time. We’re constantly walking through our cities plugged into our headphones, but you can’t get away from the music in waiting rooms or shops and supermarkets. We don’t even have time to sit and be bored anymore, let alone think about building forests.

ANNE BEATE

And this is the world where this Future Library artwork comes in, that’s entirely based on the idea of planting trees – it’s about walking in the forest; doing rituals!

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Photo credit: Bjørvika Utvikling by Kristin von Hirsch

INTERVIEWER

And how important is the relationship between nature and art? Especially in a world where we now have eBooks, rather than physical books. How important is it for us to keep creating these projects that entwine physical ‘real’ nature with art?

ANNE BEATE

It’s interesting you ask this question about the relationship we have with nature and how we connect to it, because it’s actually a very personal topic to me.

I grew up on a farm. I carried the farm name – which is 1000 years old. It was once a Viking farm. And when my father died when he was young, I was supposed to inherit it. And in Norway, this is almost taken for granted as a rite of passage, that you would take on the farm and run it as a farm. And you are in fact obliged to run it as a farm if you take it.

And my father died when I was 22 and I really had a difficult decision to make; about whether I would take it on, and I said ‘no’. So it’s no longer part of the family.

And this is a decision I haven’t regretted. I realised I wasn’t a farmer, and that that was okay. It was maybe a brave decision, but the right one. And oddly enough what the whole experience has taught me – is that life, in a way, is about planting trees. And planting grains – because my other project is about planting farm crops in the middle of Oslo. And when I first heard about these projects and became involved with them, they both confronted me with how disconnected I had been from nature, even though I have such a long family history of living and working on a farm, which is so connected to the natural world.

And so when I think about this, I realise that both of these artworks are about sustainability. They’re both about the importance of protecting our environment; about living in this world and our collective futures, and having to protect what we have for the long term. We really need to reconnect with nature and the world.

So it’s amazing how both these artworks are so rich in the way they communicate a very fundamental message about being human, which is that no matter how much technology we have, we are still the same animals that evolved over millions of years and thousands of years of modern civilisation to live as part of nature – not apart from it. We need to save our world and our planet. So artworks that speak to this fundamental need are really important.

INTERVIEWER

But of course, we live in an era of catastrophic climate breakdown – do you think these artworks have a call to action in encouraging people to take better care of our planet and our environment? Do we need to each start planting more trees?

ANNE BEATE

So even though Margaret Atwood is kind of quite ‘black’ in her writing, she really isn’t when it comes to her outlook. And when I spoke to her she said “this is a hopeful project” – she’s the one who really knows what it means when it comes to environmental activism. She’s there, on the front of it – and she’s been there all the time; but we haven’t necessarily been listening. And it’s partly her environmentalist background that made her say yes to participating in this work – it took her maybe only two minutes to make up her mind, she said.

Of course, we were SO happy, when she said she was willing to get involved. I can still remember where I was when I got the message saying she would do it. I was so happy! Because it was at this moment that I realised ‘this project is actually going to happen’.

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Anne Beate Hovind and Future Library contributor, Margaret Atwood. Photo credit: Bjørvika Utvikling by Kristin von Hirsch

INTERVIEWER

Did you have doubts that the project might not take off before you got Atwood’s backing?

ANNE BEATE

Not necessarily doubts, but I knew it was a challenge, because, as we said earlier, there aren’t many projects or ideas these days that are built around cathedral thinking – we don’t even build monuments or buildings that won’t be finished for 100 years, let alone art. So how do you talk to a board about this? How do you convince them that 100 years is nothing?

But it’s been a fantastic journey so far, and it is fantastic still. I’m so happy and grateful to be a part of this work, and it has changed me – it’s been life changing.

INTERVIEWER

Why do you think this project resonates so much with so many people, including yourself?

ANNE BEATE

Some researchers should do some research on this, you know. When I saw the article had been upvoted so many times to the front page of Reddit, I thought, what is it that makes people upvote it so much? What is it all about?

INTERVIEWER

There’s a core essence, perhaps, that the project has which has the capacity to capture people’s imagination’s in a really quick way.

ANNE BEATE

And it’s so positive: the engagement people have with it is so built on hope and trust and empathy and compassion. I think it’s really basic human things that we need and are in need of.

I don’t have the answer of course; I can only try to imagine. But when I hear people say things about it, or when I have people ask me ‘how can you be sure that someone will take on this project after you are dead’ (so there’s even an aspect of mortality here that is intrinsically involved), well, I say it’s all about trust.

But when you say that – people have a really shocked reaction – they think ‘that’s so crazy’!

INTERVIEWER

So how do you sustain the project for the future? In 70 or 80 years time, how will you make sure it’s still running?

ANNE BEATE

Trust! It’s all about trust. You know we have set up a formal trust and intention agreements with the relevant municipal authorities in regards to the forest and the room at the Oslo Library, so we have kind of rigged up that admin aspect of it. But to run this project is also about energy – its about respect for the artwork and how it’s set up; and it is about loyalty.

There will be things the board and the trustees will have to solve that me and the artist couldn’t forsee. So there will be people who have to take on my job and fulfil it.

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Oslo Public Library, where the books of the library of the future will be kept. Photo credit: Atelier Oslo and Lund Hagem.

The great thing about this artwork now is that I’ve seen there is a whole world protecting it. So if the forest is threatened by anything – the whole world will make sure to guard it and the books.

I have no choice other than believing in the project. And there’s also trust the other way – because the coming generations have to trust us that we do these kinds of thing for them. They have to trust that we will do things that take care of the planet – that we create work of arts for them.

INTERVIEWER

Art is about what brings people together and the connections that this kind of project can form. Do you have any hopes for yourself about how this might turn out? If you could see the ceremony that takes place 100 years from now, what would you like to see?

ANNE BEATE

I’m sure it’s going to be very emotional. I hope some of my great grand-children will be there and for them to maybe think ‘it was crazy for my great grandmother to take on this idea 100 years ago’, and I hope they think about that and what it means. Because it’s about building bridges between now and the future – but to turn it around, it’s also going to be about the present in the future and the past.

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5 thoughts on “Creatives in profile: interview with Anne Beate Hovind, the curator of the Library of the Future

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