1. KinesTHESES Project Background: Introducing the Digital Toolkit Idea

By Paul Couillard

KinesTHESES was developed and organized by me (Paul Couillard) under the auspices of the Toronto Performance Art Collective (TPAC) as an “off-year” project.[1] KinesTHESES features 10 artists, who were invited to develop works that would engage an audience of participants and witnesses not simply as eyes and ears but as tactile-kinesthetic creatures: bodies for whom movement, positioning in space and touch are central to discovering, developing, and expressing their identities. I encouraged the artists to imagine projects that would not be understood primarily as spectator events, but rather would recognize the audience as contributing to the work in an essential way through their own bodily actions and choices. This guiding premise was developed as an offshoot of my doctoral work, which seeks to reconceptualize the notion of presence.[2]

All of the artists I invited to be a part of the project were people I have worked with in some capacity before: artists who have been featured in past 7a*11d or FADO events that I produced or co-curated over the past 25 years, artists who I have collaborated with on other projects, artists whose work I have written about, and/or artists who have presented their works at events where I was also presenting my work. Whereas 7a*md8 placed a strong emphasis on supporting new and emerging artists, KinesTHESES aimed to deepen ties and continue conversations with established artists as well as to acknowledge layered, intertwined histories. In artist-driven, project-based organizations, it is easy to privilege one-time events featuring an ever-changing stream of artists. It can be difficult to build ongoing relationships, to support artists’ practices over extended periods, to help reinvigorate and validate the practices of artists who have fallen out of the spotlight or moved in other directions, or to provide meaningful opportunities for senior practitioners. Part of my impetus in choosing this particular set of artists was to return to conversations that still seem relevant and where there remains more to discover and to be said.

I chose the frame of a residency to structure individual projects, proposing to each artist a two-week (more or less) period of intensive activity that could be financially supported, which might include research and development time as well as encounters with a chosen public or publics. Also structured into the residency was an opportunity for “negotiated interactions” that would pair up the five local artists with the five artists coming from elsewhere. This pairing was proposed in lieu of the traditional artist talk or panel. I saw this as a way of circumventing the authority of my voice as curator, allowing the artists to highlight aspects of their practice or concerns that might fall outside of the curatorial imperative of “the kinestheses,” or of my vision of their works. I asked the artists to determine between themselves what their interaction might be, with the caveat that they produce something that could ultimately be shared publicly. The results included structured performances, interventions, and public conversations. This also meant that there were actually 15+ projects rather than 10.

KinesTHESES is more process- than project-oriented. One of the consequences of having artists develop new work in the context of a short-term residency is that it was sometimes difficult to promote the events for the informed audience that regularly attends the 7a*11d festival. Some of the projects were organized somewhat spontaneously for “accidental audiences,”[3] and could not be announced in advance. Others were designed for very specific environments or intimate participation that by their very nature limited attendance. Some, to be honest, I just didn’t have the marketing resources or acumen to publicize as extensively as I might have hoped.

Emphasizing the experience of participant bodies over that of the artist’s body as representational figure, however, opens up the possibilities for these projects to have a different, extended life, one that may not rely solely or primarily on the aspects of performance art that I usually privilege. What tends to interest me most about performance art as a genre is the way works bring artist and audience together in a co-responsive space and time. I value the particular meaningfulness and energies that come from contributing to the homeostasis of a group: breathing the same air awash in scents and pheromones, exchanging glances, riding complex waves of movement, vibration, and temperature, brushing up against shared surfaces.

This shared immediacy, however, is not the whole—or necessarily even the main—life of what a performance work is or can be. Performances endure, for better or for worse, in the changes that they elicit, in their effects on the bodies that participated in them, in the documentary evidence that they produce, and in the examples they provide for ways to engage with (or as) time, space and matter. What is offered here, then, is not an archive meant to faithfully preserve what has already happened. Instead, these narrations, observations, recordings, fragments, residues, and reflections are proposed in the form of a toolkit. As tools, they certainly carry with them the history of their making, but they are also devices for the continued iteration of works with leaky borders that are always becoming, events that have no absolute beginning or end. Assembled here are instruments for apprenticing, practicing, and performing what these works might be; attenuating aids for sensitizing participants to these works’ ongoing resonance; catalysts embedded into the works’ ongoing animation; and flints for igniting the works’ latent potentials.


[1] TPAC’s main activity is producing the biennial 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art. “Off-year” is the term the collective uses to describe significant activities that take place outside the festival context—usually in the year between festivals, as the name suggests. The goals of off-year projects can vary, but they tend to be designed to accommodate projects (e.g., residencies and exchanges) that would be difficult to present within a festival context. Unlike the 7a*11d festival, which is conceived and curated by the collective as a whole, these projects are usually undertaken by individual members or smaller groups within the collective. They provide an opportunity to pursue and support specific curatorial concerns.

Off-year projects are not new to the collective. They were an important part of our early history. The first such event was a residency project featuring Rachel Rosenthal that I produced in collaboration with FADO, originally scheduled for 1999, but moved to 2000 when the artist fell ill. That was followed by the Vancouver-Montréal-Toronto artist exchange project ReciproCity/RéciproCité in 2001, which featured a total of nine artists (three from each city). I was the Toronto lead, working in collaboration with independent artist organizers Josée Tremblay and Tagny Duff. Tremblay, who had established the performance art festival FA3 in Montréal in 1999, partnered with the artist centre Studio 303 to support the Montréal events. The Vancouver portion of the project never happened due primarily to unsuccessful fundraising efforts as well as internal restructuring among potential institutional partners that altered their priorities. Duff explored numerous options, working at different points with partners including grunt gallery, Western Front, the Vancouver performance art biennial (now known as the LIVE! Biennale of Performance Art), and Video In (currently operating as VIVO). One of the other Vancouver artists, Margaret Dragu, also attempted to facilitate a West coast iteration of the project through the Richmond Art Gallery, but that, too, failed to materialize.

For several years following ReciproCity/RéciproCité, TPAC did not stage any major off-year events, but the practice was revived in 2017 when Golboo Amani and Francisco-Fernando Granados produced 7a*md8, a multi-faceted exploration of lens-based performance practices.

[2] As I write this, I am preparing to defend my recently submitted dissertation, Rethinking Presence as a Thinking Body: Intra-active Relationality and Animate Form.

[3] I borrow this term from Kym Pruesse, who used it as a catalogue title for a month-long Toronto-based urban intervention project entitled off\site@toronto (September 25 – October 31, 1998). In her introductory essay, “Thoughts on Intervention,” she notes the particular problem that such projects can pose for producing organizations that feel an obligation to reach their established audiences. Writing about the strategies Mercer Union settled on to promote off\site@toronto, which included works that shifted locations, she observes in somewhat dry fashion, “audiences who were used to actively seeking out and viewing art found themselves somewhat marginalized in this context” (11).


Pruesse, Kym, ed. Accidental Audience: Urban Interventions by Artists. Toronto: the off\site collective, 1999.

Scroll to Top