Kate Usher | Festival Curator

Welcome to Supercell: Festival of Contemporary Dance 2019

We are thrilled to be back at the Brisbane Powerhouse and Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts sharing the third edition of Supercell with artists and audiences alike.  

With two festivals under our belt and looking ahead to our future, a load of thinking has been invested in what do we stand behind and how do we champion? With people and places on the brain, this led us to our 2019 theme: ‘The View From Here: Australia and the Asia-Pacific’. Connecting with our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific affords us some amazing opportunities to be influenced by the lives of different people, who can shape our views and understandings of the world around us. As policy, tourism and open trade continue to be a driving force for our society, alongside endeavours for cultural diplomacy and exchange, it is vital that we are active in meeting our peers through arts and culture.

Since 2017 I have been extremely fortunate to exchange with dance artists in Hong Kong and Singapore, working to bring to fruition these presentations at Supercell. The works from these courageous artists reflect on the growing concerns for humanity: urbanisation, communication and body politics. These are unique windows - little peep-holes - into the lives and experiences of places not too far from us. Does the world look so different? 

Closer to home, female choreographers shine with national treasure Lucy Guerin Inc placing female bodies and brains firmly on stage. Heralding from Brisbane is acclaimed artist Nerida Matthaei, with a work that offers the opportunity for us to confront society’s internalised misogynies. These are sign posts to the current ideas that consume our makers and civic shakers. Yes, the future is female and it’s here, now, with the 2019 festival brought to you by an all-female Supercell team.

Supporting our dreams to see Brisbane flourish as an international destination for dance, we are super duper thrilled to have all four QLD dance companies championing different elements of the program: The Farm with our PARTICIPATE program, EDC with our SATELLITE CELLS, Dancenorth with THINK and Queensland Ballet for CAPTURED. In coming together we can generate a mighty storm of dance. 

Last but certainly not least is the Independent Dance Exchange, or INDEX as it’s more fondly known. A platform for the next generation of Queensland indie artists with bold ideas. Supercell is passionate about supporting the ecology of our home grown makers and views the opportunity to showcase Queensland artists as pivotal in the sustainability of art and culture here in Brisbane. And ooof ! What talent lives here! There is nothing more powerful then finding platforms for audiences to engage with new works. So come along and check out what your local artists have been cultivating. It’s pretty darn rad.

So as it rains down dance-filled opportunities to move, chat, see, do and debate, I hope you join us for another summer festival.  I very much look forward to sharing Supercell 2019 with you all!

Kate Usher
Supercell: Festival of Contemporary Dance 

WOMBAT RADIO | Podcast interviews with festival artists

RENAE SHADLER | Hey, I want to hang out with you Molten

RESTORE by Renae Shadler. Photo by Roland Spratte, 2018

RESTORE by Renae Shadler. Photo by Roland Spratte, 2018

THINK Salon panelist Renae Shadler articulates her concerns and questions about creating and performing contemporary dance in the age of the Anthropocene.

I splutter ‘Hey, I want to hang out with you molten’ into an onstage microphone while perched in a twisted posture resembling a mountain. The layering of the serene image, panicked tone in my voice and playful idea encapsulate my somewhat quirky approach to creating and performing contemporary dance in the age of the Anthropocene.

The performance is, RESTORE, my recent solo that explores natural time-scales in relation to the arrhythmia of western lifestyle with warmth and humour. The work aims to build our capacity for intimacy, ecological sensitivity and inclusiveness. RESTORE was inspired by a month-long artist residency in a small Icelandic fishing village at the base of Snæfellsjökull, a large active volcano that was capped with a glacier. Being in such close proximity to the Snæfellsjökull, with all its layers of temporality stacked on top of one another -- molten lava, volcanic rock, glacial ice and snow, was a searing reminder of the environment’s fragility and wonder.

One of Ecopsychology’s pioneers Laura Sewall writes that “particularly in an age of disembodiment and disenchantment, sensing our embeddedness within the biosphere may be practiced with imagination… It produces a notable, sensual experience of being part of, within” (1). This statement is fundamental to my understanding of the role of performance, and creativity more broadly, within this critical geologic time. It also highlights my entry into ‘post-anthropocentric’ thinking which encompasses not only other species, but also the sustainability of our planet as a whole.

As a panelist on ‘The role of artists in the age of the Anthropocene?' at Supercell Dance Festival, I wanted to articulate my concerns about the term ‘Anthropocene’. Anthropocene refers to ‘the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment’. While human impact is undeniable, this thinking places the human species in the powerful position of colonizing the environment. In contrast, my practice is very much in support of post-anthropocentric thought that encourages the emergence of non-hierarchical human and non-human processes and ways of being.  

My work examines humans role in the greater global ecology. For me, ecology refers to how we are connecting to each other, systems we are immersed in, and the environment. Performance is the best way for me to share this research with the public because it allows for the multi-layered, humorous, awkwardly personal, and nuanced. I delve into the deeper reaches of what it means to be a human in the world, working across forms, in a variety of contexts, to create immersive and transformative artistic encounters.

I am theoretically driven by contemporary, mostly female, philosophers working within; New Materialism (Jane Bennett), the self-organizing powers of nonhuman processes (Donna Haraway), Posthumanism (Rosi Braidotti) and Ecological Perception (Laura Sewall). In performance I’m searching for concrete and accessible ways to translate this theoretical work into embodiment. Since ‘RESTORE’, which was first conceived in 2015, I have collaborated with Finnish dancer/choreographer Maria Nurmela to create ‘Susurrus’ –- a dance/theatre duet that draws a parallel between the current ecological crisis and human midlife crisis and am currently working on ‘SKIN’ –- a duet between myself and Roland Walter, a 50+ year old dancer with full-body spastic paraplegia, that explores ageism, access and how we traverse earth’s surfaces.

Through performance and embodiment I have experienced first-hand the human body as nature. The materiality of our bodies is intrinsically intertwined with the materialities of other human and non-human entities that surround us such as; digital technologies, carbon-dioxide and even molten. So, let’s hang out?

SKIN by Renae Shadler and Roland Walter. Photo by Roland Spratte, 2019

SKIN by Renae Shadler and Roland Walter. Photo by Roland Spratte, 2019


1. Laura Sewall: Sight and Sensibility : The Ecopsychology of Perception, Tarcher Press, 1991

- Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press, 2016
- Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter, Duke University Press 2010
- Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013


Even if we could imagine a world that was totally automated, would that be a world without need? THINK Salon panelist Jared Donovan reflects on our relationship to technology.

The main theme of the discussion for me was about making conscious choices in relation to how we bring technologies of automation, social media, artificial intelligence into our lives. What I appreciated about the discussion was that we didn’t fall onto ‘techno-boosterism’, nor a naïve romanticisation of a golden past. We recognised the problems that many of these technologies can cause for how we relate to one-another, or the world. But we also understood that they also open opportunities and give us many other benefits.

The one thread of conversation I would have like to dwell on a little more was the fascinating question of what will we do when everything is automated. I thought a lot about this over the weekend and I think it can take us to some interesting places is we unpick some of the assumptions implicit in that question. 

The first thing I would ask is: even if we could imagine a world that was totally automated, would that be a world without need?

I don’t think so. The reason is that there are parts of the world outside of what’s automatable, which still require us to act. Think of social justice, inequality, rights to full participation in society, problems of discrimination. I can’t imagine a sense in which any of those issues could be automated away. Similarly, for the environmental challenges that face us – perhaps automation can help reduce the impact we have on the environment, or even help rectify some of the damage we have already done, but I think it’s a mistake to think that these sorts of challenges present themselves as neatly solvable ‘problems’. We need to re-think the relations between humans and non-humans and where we see ourselves within that.

The second thing I would ask is: is it realistic to think that everything can be automated?

Many of the problems we face (even things which theoretically can be automated) take the form of ‘wicked problems’. The idea of a ‘wicked problem’, which comes from the field of social policy (Horst & Rittel), is a problem where the solution to the problem is tangled up in the problem itself. The problem also does not have any clear formulation – different people will see the problem in different ways. And in trying to solve a problem we often create new ones. Many of the challenges we now face have this character. Dealing with wicked problems requires an ongoing engagement with the problem situation and a constant reappraisal of how we respond and act. When we talked about conscious decisions in relation to how we adopt technologies, perhaps we were hinting at this need for a continuing engagement with an unsettled world.

The third thing I would ask is: especially in relation to robotics – do we want to automate everything?

In the end, we always find our way to the world through our bodily engagement with it. The philosopher Maxine Sheets-Johnstone argues that it is through movement in the world that we are able to know at all. She writes beautifully of how we are born into the world ‘infused with movement’ (literally not ‘stillborn’). The dominant techno-scientific discourse of our culture is impoverished by an ongoing inattention to our own embodiment. When imagining possible futures, we suffer from an inability to imagine our bodies within them. It becomes overly cerebral. To genuinely engage with possible imagined futures we need to find ways to ‘come to our senses’ and re-place ourselves within them. Perhaps there’s a role for art (especially dance) within that.

A framework for thinking about conscious choices in relation to technology.

In his book ‘what things do’, the philosopher of technology, Peter Paul Verbeek provides a number of useful concepts for getting to grips with relations between people and things (technologies). One idea (from the phenomenologist Dreyfus) is that the way we experience technologies often involves simultaneous amplifications and reductions in our perception of the world. For instance, when we use a telescope, we can more clearly see far away objects, but simultaneously our immediate surroundings are obscured. We can also conceive of our relations with the world as either foreground or background relations. We can use this insight when considering the impact of new technologies – what parts of experience are amplified or diminished; what is brought to the foreground, what is pushed to the background? He also uses the notion of engagement (from Borgman) and shows how technologies lead to different kinds of engagement with the world. Often, a technology that makes our lives more convenient (e.g. electric heating), has the side-effect of removing a whole range of activities that allowed us to engage with and through our bodies and the world (gathering firewood, sitting around the hearth). Similar to our discussion on the night, this is not a simplistic question good or ill. It is a matter of recognising and choosing between alternatives.