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Paul Couillard’s reply to our projects: <i>What is performance art?</i> and <i>Timeline of performance art</i>

Paul Couillard’s reply to our projects: <i>What is performance art?</i> and <i>Timeline of performance art</i>

Paul Couillard’s reply to our projects: <i>What is performance art?</i> and <i>Timeline of performance art</i>

Paul Couillard’s reply to our projects: <i>What is performance art?</i> and <i>Timeline of performance art</i>

Paul Couillard’s reply to our projects: <i>What is performance art?</i> and <i>Timeline of performance art</i>

Paul Couillard’s reply to our projects: <i>What is performance art?</i> and <i>Timeline of performance art</i>

Paul Couillard’s reply to our projects: What is performance art? and Timeline of performance art

Paul Couillard, 2011-09-03

Performance art is a place. It is a time. It is a body. And it is a relationship. For me, performance art is a conscious exploration of being. My own history of performance art is not the history of any particular art movement or canonized list of master practitioners. It does not begin with dada or fluxus.

What is performance art?

I have been asked this question so many times in the past 15 years that I have come to believe it is my life's work to answer it. But this question cannot be answered with words alone. All that I know I have learned by doing, and so I have come to understand that the answer to this question must be inhabited, like life itself.


Performance art is a place. It is a time. It is a body. And it is a relationship. These are the formal elements of performance art, its essential building blocks. How they are gathered together, shaped or composed will vary according to the art and the artist. Every performance art work is a personal bid for the attitude or approach that turns these elements from raw material into art. What is the uncompromising, essential quality that we seek? Experimentation? Adventurousness? Honesty? Subtlety? Complexity? Sacredness? The unexpected? Whatever the terms, whatever the qualities chosen to be valued, the description is bound to mislead anyone who is not breathing and enduring the moments of performance art's being. It is live art, and so it must be lived.

read more: PAUL COUILLARD What is performance art?

Timeline of performance art

Malgorzata Kazmierczak: I read your essay in Total Art Journal, where you say that your motive to take up performance art was purely personal and that it saved your life. Could you tell the story to our readers?

Paul Couillard: In 1984 I was working as a civil servant in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. Of course I was aware of Orwell’s book, and I felt some discomforting similarities with my own job, which was to answer complaint letters directed to the president of Canada Post Corporation. My success was measured not in whether people’s problems were solved or not, but in how many letters could be answered each day. Then a machine fitted with a mechanical template would sign the president’s name using a pen – either with a formal or more personalized signature, depending on the recipient; the letter would go out, and the file would be closed. This was a quite illuminating if somewhat depressing lesson for me in the workings of bureaucracy. Anyway, I felt like my soul was dying, even though I was making an excellent salary and was being groomed for higher positions. I could not find any meaning in this life, and I was on a very negative emotional and psychological track. If things continued for me in this manner, I am quite certain I would have killed someone, most likely myself, but possibly another human being. I knew this was a very unhealthy way to think, but I did not know how to alleviate my inner desolation.

read more: An interview with PAUL COUILLARD

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