Beginnings Marathon, 2017
6-hour performance – Clockshop at the Bowtie, Los Angeles
Photo: Sara Pooley. Courtesy of Clockshop
Beginnings Marathon, 2015
6-hour performance – Kunsthalle Osnabrueck
Photo: Vlatka Horvat
Beginnings Marathon is a durational performance project for which members of the public are invited to take turns at a microphone and read out loud the first page of a book that’s important to them in some way. From the start of much loved classics to pulp novels, theoretical treatises, obscure poetic texts, children’s stories and popular histories, Horvat’s participatory work fills the space with endless first pages, creating a collage of beginnings, openings, and incomplete narratives, read out loud in a variety of languages.
Mixing participants invited specifically by the artist (such as the mayor, a local priest, a group of school children, a librarian, a taxi driver, people active in the local community, and so on) and ‘open mic’ participants attending the event, Beginnings Marathon gives voice to the texts that people feel a special connection to, staging the act of reading out loud to create a communal space of listening, thinking, and imagining.
Throughout the event, the space where the piece is being presented gets filled with beginnings of stories, summoning narrative possibilities, opening spaces, setting the ground for something to happen – over and over again, for several hours. By focusing on beginnings of books – sticking to the frame of ‘first page only’ – the framework of the piece decidedly interrupts each narrative just as it starts to get going, opening up a flood of images and ideas, and a myriad possible story developments to summon an imaginary space in which stories can go anywhere in the minds of those listening. First pages of books and the beginnings of stories in them work as openings, sparks, hooks; invitations to those listening to run wild in their imagination, to get lost, to go on a wander.
Books people may choose to read from can be any genre and any category, and they can be read in any language. People might choose to bring their favorite book from when they were growing up, or a book they’ve read 5 or 6 times, or a book they are still re-reading now and then, in its entirety or in parts, or a book that for whatever reason made a connection to them.
In culling together books chosen by people participating in the event, Beginnings Marathon stages a kind of a fragmented, cacophonous collage of texts people value and cherish, a map of textual influences, of stories people deem important – by voicing into the space texts that might have shaped someone’s thinking, that made someone wonder, or imagine, that moved someone, that intrigued someone, or troubled them, or changed them in some way – texts that may have helped people find answers to some questions, or perhaps flooded them with more questions.
At the heart of the day’s event is a communal act of reading to others. Inviting people to read in any language they want opens the event to a larger and more diverse pool of people – whilst for those listening, witnessing books being read in different languages means that some texts will be not be available and accessible to everyone, and will have to be experienced on the level of sound and rhythm and musicality of the text and of the reader’s voice, and not always on the level of meaning.
Beginnings Marathon was first presented in March 2015 at Kunsthalle Osnabrueck in Osnabrueck, Germany, staged in the Kunsthalle’s spectacular medieval cathedral.
In October 2015, the second incarnation of Beginnings Marathon took place at HAU Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin, Germany.
The third staging of the project was in June 2016 at a public library in Zagreb, Croatia, and was jointly organized and co-presented by WHW/Galerija Nova and Galerija Prozori.
An outdoor version of the piece was presented in May 2017 in Los Angeles, commissioned by Clockshop, as part of the organization’s Bowtie initiative, developed in partnership with California State Parks, which presents projects by artists on a patch of abandoned wasteland parcel alongside the Los Angeles River in Atwood Village neighbourhood of LA.
During the 2020 lockdown, KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen festival in Hannover presented two versions of the project: an online version in May 2020 and a socially distanced live version in October 2020.
Most recent version of the piece, presented in April 2021 at KANAL – Centre Pompidou in Brussels (part of Brussels, City of Stories) allowed people to take part both by coming to KANAL to read in person and by sending in first pages of books of their choice by email. Contributions of pages/books sent in remotely were read out loud at the live event by a group of multilingual performers.
Commissioned / Presented by Kunsthalle Osnabrueck (2015), HAU Hebbel am Ufer Berlin (2015), WHW – What How and for Whom and Galerija Prozori Zagreb (2016), Clockshop Los Angeles (2017), KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen (2020), KANAL – Centre Pompidou (2021).
The Los Angeles version supported by a grant from NEA – National Endowment for the Arts and realised in partnership with California State Parks.