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About Paris & Hill

Photo Hill and Paris

Helen Paris and Leslie Hill. Photo by Hugo Glendinning.


(Being) Curious

By Dr. Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, Roehampton University

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 cloning, place and placelessness, family, the sense of smell, women and gun control, sex trade workers, and, most recently, “gut feelings.” To address these diverse topics, Hill and Paris research and develop work through interdisciplinary practices of performance and film-making creating evocative work that reaches to the heart of human concerns and questions.

Curiosity has led Hill and Paris to develop unique tools and practices within a form of hybrid-style 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 video, film, installation, publication, site specific work, or theatre. Hybridity allows us the maximum flexibility for our work and the ideas we engage with.” Since 1996, when Hill and Paris first formed their company, performance art (or “live art” as it is better known in the UK where Curious have primarily been based) has become one of the most vibrant, cutting edge and innovative forms of artistic practice. Its interdisciplinary qualities and its creative social, political, and artistic forces appeal to Curious, whose work crosses seamlessly between theatrical-style performance, installation, film-making, and publication. Their recent “Autobiology” project, which investigates the notion of “gut feelings” has also led them to collaborations with scientists exploring the connections between biology and biography.

Photo Hill and Paris

Helen Paris in "On the Scent." Photo by Hugo Glendinning.

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 piece 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. This piece, which plays to audiences of four at a time, signals Curious’s interest in spectatorial engagement and arrangement. Here audience members move from room to room encountering the performers, their stories, and a series of scents that merge with and activate our own recollections and sensorial memories of “home.” Curious seek to foster and cultivate audience memories, and On the Scent exemplifies their focus as well upon the questions of performance documentation and the creation of an ongoing life for their work through a DVD containing a film of audience responses (see: for a sample).

Having been affiliated with academic institutions across their career, Hill and Paris’s work bridges practice and research and investigates the impact of scholarly, scientific, and environmental research upon human life. Curious also are actively involved with mentoring new generations of performance makers. They have published widely, editing valuable collections such as Performance and Place, London: Palgrave Macmillan (2006), Guerilla Performance: How To Make a Living as an Artist, London: Continuum (2004), and Guerilla Performance & Multimedia. London: Continuum (2001). For a complete list of their works and essays written about the company see:

Photo Hill and Paris

Autobiology workshop in Taipei.

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. Paris has said that, “We encourage an open dialogue with audiences and communities that we engage with. Our curiousity does not end with our own experiences—we want to know how the people around us think and feel about the same questions.” Throughout their recent Autobiology project, Hill and Paris have run a series of workshops facilitating the creation of participants’ performance work by asking them to draw upon their own autobiographical material. Through and with others in workshops, research, and performance itself, Curious performances grow outward from the “heart” of the work, expanding through collaboration, reaching out into communities, and resonating in live spaces, on film, and with the individual audience members. Curious’s works leave traces behind, imparting a curiosity to others.

Photo Hill and Paris

Helen Paris.

Their recent and highly acclaimed work the moment I saw you I knew I could love you was made in collaboration with film-maker Andrew Kötting and composer and sound designer Graeme Miller and emerges, metaphorically, from the belly of a whale. The piece is one outcome of the work on autobiology and gut feelings; audience members find themselves “floating” in the space on large inflatable life rafts as performers Hill, Paris, and Claudia Barton produce haunting and humorous stories and images about those indescribable “gut feelings.”

Photo Hill and Paris

Helen Paris and Leslie Hill in Sea Swallow'd.

Always exploring the relation of the living document to the enduring traces, as well as seeking multifaceted expressions of their work, Curious and Kötting have also produced a film, Sea Swallow'd, which beautifully unites their research and their performance piece into an adjunct “arm” of the project. The film is a marvel in its own right and highlights Kotting and Curious’s filmmaking talents. Hill explains, “We really wanted to collaborate with Andrew on the film. His own work has a really visceral quality, which we thought would be perfect for an exploration of gut feelings. And I think Andrew, in turn, was interested in collaborating on this project because it wasn’t “just” going to be a film, but also a live performance, so that was something new and exciting for him. The work we make often has a range of outputs—film, performance, talks, workshops, and/or publications—I suppose because we get really interested in a topic and then want to try coming at it from all angles. We are particularly interested in the filmic qualities of live performance and the performativity of film. There are some things that are only possible in the live (such as working directly with the sense of smell) and we can be real junkies of the live presence. At the same time film allows us to create different terrains and textures for the work which are very exciting and painterly.”

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 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. Having toured their work extensively (in the UK, USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia, China, Taiwan, and other countries in Europe), Hill and Paris have recently relocated from the UK to the US to take part in the Madison residency and then to take up Associate Professorships in Performance Making at Stanford University in Northern California, though their company Curious will remain based in London under the continuing management of Artsadmin ( Internationality is a foundation of Curious’s formation—Hill is originally from the US and Paris is from the UK. Their ongoing partnership and collaboration frequently interrogates the similarities and differences at the heart of our “homes.”

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—whether using media in the nascent stages of what is now called “multimedia performance,” working with the human side of community politics addressing issues such as the sex trade and gun control, or forging lasting collaborative links with regional artists, communities, and scientists. Yet over the span of their career Curious have 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 and can be found here: to a series of performances paying homage to suffragettes and feminist guerrilla performance to their artists’ book Greenham Common, A Curious Residency, compiling documentation of their work in and around the cold war nuclear missile base and protest sites at Greenham.

While in Madison, Curious are creating a festival/symposium called “Inside Story” consisting of artist talks and performances addressing the intersections of biology and biography, to include their performance On the Scent (4-5 Dec), an artist talk by New York based artist Suzanne Anker (9 Dec), the US premiere of the moment I saw you I knew I could love you (10-11 Dec), and a Long Table event hosted by Lois Weaver (12 Dec). Curious are also adapting the week-long intensive Autobiology workshops they ran for professional artists in the UK in 2008-2009 into a semester-long interdisciplinary course including students from Art, Theatre, Dance, French, and Biology. Their students’ work will be featured as part of “Inside Story” (11 Dec). Hill and Paris will also be developing new work during their residency.

Let your curiosity lead you to Curious.