(Being) Curious

By Jennifer Parker-Starbuck

The co-directors and founders of the company Curious, Leslie Hill and Helen Paris, have made a career out of their curiosity. As performance makers and artists they have produced over 40 works investigating questions of digital technologies, place and placelessness, the politics of violence, the sense of smell and gut feelings.

To address these diverse topics, Hill and Paris research and develop work through the interdisciplinary practices of performance and film-making, creating evocative work that reaches to the heart of human concerns. Curiosity has led Hill and Paris to develop unique tools and practices within a form of hybridstyle performance.

“At its essence the work always has a desire for contact and communication. We are often content-led and then choose the form we think best suits the content. So that means that the work can be theatre, video, film, installation, publication or site-specific work. Hybridity allows us the maximum flexibility for our work and the ideas we engage with.”

Since 1997, when Hill and Paris first formed their company, performance art (or ‘live art’ as it is better known in the UK, where Curious has primarily been based) has become one of the most vibrant, cutting-edge and innovative forms of artistic practice. The interdisciplinary qualities and the creative social, political and artistic forces of the form appeal to Curious, whose work crosses seamlessly between theatrical-style performance, installation, film-making, and publication.

Their highly acclaimed work the moment I saw you I knew I could love you was made in collaboration with scientists exploring the notion of ‘gut feelings’ and connections between biology and biography. Weaving together the ‘gut feelings’ of first impressions with the deeper and more entwined connections between lovers, friends, parents and children, and humanity and the environment, the moment I saw you and the film Sea Swallow’d represent Curious’s practice of entanglement – in life, love, art and politics – and their unbridled curiosity about how we act, play and live in the contemporary world.

Hill and Paris frequently develop work around a question or series of questions that produce intimate engagements with other performers and with audience members. ‘What smell reminds you of home?’ they ask in On the Scent, their synaesthetic work entwining memory and scent; the piece travels from home to home and has been performed in kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms across the globe since 2003. On the Scent, which plays to intimate audiences signals Curious’s interest in spectatorial engagement and arrangement.

Woman captured falling in a black satin dress during a theatre performance
Best Before End at The Chelsea Theatre in 2014. Photo: Richard Davenport.

Having been affiliated to several academic institutions across their careers, Hill and Paris’s work bridges practice and research, and investigates the impact of scholarly, scientific and environmental research upon human life. Curious is actively involved with mentoring new generations of performance-makers.

Claudia Barton became an Associate Artist of Curious in 2011 after collaborating on several projects including the moment I saw you I knew I could love you and Slipstreaming.

While Hill and Paris often work with their own autobiographical material, they are dedicated to ongoing outreach and pedagogy, not just with their students but with local communities and in performance collaboration with other artists. Through and with others in workshops, research and performance itself, Curious performances grow outward from the ‘heart’ of the work, expanding, reaching out, and resonating – in live spaces, on film, and with individual audience members. Curious’s works leave traces behind, imparting a curiosity to others.

Hill and Paris’s curiosity has led them down a variety of paths and has placed them at the forefront of contemporary political and social issues – through their pioneering use of media in the nascent stages of what is now called ‘multimedia performance’, through working with the human side of community politics by addressing issues such as the sex trade and gun control, or through forging lasting collaborative links with regional artists, communities and scientists. Yet over the span of their career, Curious has also created a wide range of historically charged work, from a short film for Darwin’s 200th birthday (which was broadcast on Channel 4 and screened at the Natural History Museum in the UK) to a series of performances paying homage to suffragettes, and to their artists’ book Greenham Common, which documents their work in and around the Cold War nuclear missile base and protest sites at Greenham.

Let your curiosity lead you.