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Supersense

20 August 2015 | 4:43 pm | Paul Ransom

"Supersense, perhaps more than any other 'festival' we've attended, challenged the validity of its own form."

Imagine an arts-music festival, and then transport it to the refined environs of the Arts Centre. Add in a programme of avant-garde luminaries and you have a very 'adult' weekend of envelope-pushing indulgence. No mosh, no sniffer dogs and nary a radio-friendly unit-shifter in earshot.

That said, Supersense, perhaps more than any other 'festival' we've attended, challenged the validity of its own form, not simply because of the necessarily vignette nature of most of the performances or even the fact that, as punters, we're not always fully invested in the individual acts (because we have the 'wander off' option), but rather because curator Sophia Brous challenged herself and us by introducing elements of ritual, risk and ambiguity. 

Kuda Lumping, the trance-inducing East Javanese ritual that began proceedings immediately posed the question: is this appropriate? Have we, as an ostensibly white, middle-class audience, co-opted genuine tribal ceremony as a peccadillo of exotic amusement? Awkward and confronting though the spectacle sometimes was, was its inclusion in Supersense pivotal in creating the context for a process of examining the very notion of art and entertainment? What are these things? What is their purpose and what is our relationship to them?

When HTRK's Jonnine Standish ended her band's 'duet' with contemporary dance flag bearers Chunky Move by saying, "In case you're wondering what the fuck you've just seen..." the point was further underscored. Throughout, Supersense played with dislocation, disruption and discovery.

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However, there was also plenty to enjoy. Tao Dance Theater's gorgeously minimal 4 and 5 were works of simple beauty. Restrained, refined and sinuous, Tao Ye's choreographic vision is hypnotic, containing a quiet fluidity that transcends the usual Chinese penchant for technical perfection and brushes up against the sexual and the sublime. Juxtapose this with avant-punk provocateur Lydia Lunch, whose 40 minutes on stage was an ebullient, sharp-edged wig-out, and German electro pioneer Manuel Göttsching, whose late night 'greatest hits' set was a feast of blissful space-trance, and you have something of the weekend's breadth.

The film elements were similarly expansionary. Japanese artist Makino Takashi's surreal and fluttering Phantom Nebula was 50 minutes of heavily textured abstraction, a kind of miasma in 3D. Likewise, San Fran's Paul Clipson piled on the opacity and focus effects in his shapeshifting filmic meditation Hypnosis Display.

That Supersense culminated with The Velvet Underground's violinist John Cale teaming up with Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard and electro innovator Laurel Halo was most definitely apt. By refusing pretty and resisting the temptation to trawl through the first two VU albums, Cale's deliberate embrace of slowness, noise and abrasion was both jarring and utterly compelling. Although the warmest applause was reserved for Venus In Furs (minus the end of the show standing ovation), his two-hour set was a suitably haughty slab of self-assured strangeness.

At times spiritual, at others anarchic, Supersense defied neat encapsulation, except to say, perhaps rather crudely, that it was a top-shelf weekend of high-quality mind expansion.