kutalayna Hunting Ground Jordan River | nipaluna Hobart | premaydena Port Arthur & Sloping Main

Who are we?

We are creative collaborators who launch our architecture and dance from within DEEPROOM, a processed-based 30-year active ‘archive’ formerly based in Perth, Western Australia and now based in Hobart, Tasmania. Our lead creatives are Paul Wakelam Architect and Felicity Bott of Great Southern Dance. We work with many other exceptional and interdisciplinary artists. Our offerings to the Biennale Architettura 2023 are the Site Geist I and Site Geist II tactics. Via these works, we invite viewers to engage somatically and imaginatively with moving and still images of humans dancing within ruins of the machinery of colonisation.

Site Geist I
Much of colonialisation in Australia, at its core, was about and for the extraction of resources. For this acts of dominance were required, acts sustained by institutionalised power differentials and hierarchies. Four of the five film series are made on three Tasmanian World Heritage Convict sites – all are sites for extraction of materials – wood, coal and, arguably, babies (population for the new colony). These are architectural sites with hierarchies writ large within the design. The films revisit journeys of those who came before us through capture of contemporary bodies dancing in historic topography. We move where they once moved in a weaving of two scales of time: the architectural – slow and durable, and the bodily – fluid and mercurial. This linking yields experientially transformative encounters with place and history as then and now are compressed.

The ‘spirit’ of site resides simultaneously within the dancers’ bodily responses (‘neuroception’) to site and residually, within the architecture itself. We were asking: Can we displace the the ‘colonial eye’ by making single-shot, one-point perspective films capturing nervous systems, 200 years on, dancing within ruins of the machinery of colonisation? Animate and inanimate materiality combine as the remains of extractive settler worlds are tactically intertwined with deeply listening bodies.

The dancers in these films are Olivia McPherson, Alya Manzart, Robert Alejandro Tinning, Tra Mi Dinh and Gabrielle Martin. The filmmaker is Nicholas Higgins. The composer of the music in Film Series 2 – 5 is Dean Stevenson. Their deeply cultivated respective artistries are integral to our processes and outputs and contribute indelibly to any impact the tactic might have.

Separate Prison Chapel premaydena Port Arthur, lutruwita Tasmania

Film Series 1

The opening films of Site Geist I are set in a chapel designed so that the convicts incarcerated in the Separate Prison, as they sang their hymns, could not see each or brush up against each other. The architecture directed their vision and their voices only to the priest in the pulpit. The second film in this series eerily has the head-only Alya channelled in such a fashion whilst Olly, below his brain stem – dances as his nervous system might have danced, variously regulated and dysregulated and, ultimately, disconnected from the social connection that is a biological imperative for humans.


‘We were playing with the idea of having the chance to ‘arrive again’, to go back to the start. I would now reframe this as being able to re-arrive, re-greet, re-meet key players in our stories in ways free from systemic oppression, in ways free from cultural mandates of domination and suppression.’

Deck, Fireplace, Riverbed, Grass and Sky kutalayna Hunting Ground, lutruwita Tasmania

Film Series 2

Filmed at kutlayuna, Hunting Ground in the Tasmanian Southern Midlands in January 2020, these films are where and when the Site Geist experiments began, originally entitled State Stories.  We – Paul Wakelam, Nicholas Higgins, Olivia McPherson and Felicity Bott – were learning about listening to our ‘neuroception’ as we worked in situ.  That is, we listened to our nervous systems listening to site, sometimes collectively electing not to speak for up to 2 hours. Locations were selected for their physical, psychological, architectural, topographical, and natural attributes. In this film series, there is just one human nervous system dancing in the sites, Olly’s – a single human body that at times ‘occupies’, say, just 6% of the frame. 


‘When this film opens I watch Olly (because I am an animal drawn to my own kind), then I watch the implacability of the hill, the flatness of the cleared land in the foreground and then the lines of the 200-year old settler building. To me, Olly and the building become just more ephemera in the landscape – and the more vulnerable elements thereof!’

Convict Church, Visiting Magistrates Cottage Stairwell, Separate Prison Fireplace premaydena Port Arthur, lutruwita Tasmania

Film Series 3

Filmed at Port Author Historic Site, Series 3 starts with Olivia’s expressionistic movements framed by the hulking symmetry of the Convicts Church’s NW elevation. This is followed by Alya caught, in liminal suspension, in the stairwell between ground floor and attic of the Visiting Magistrate’s Cottage. The form and function of this building reflect the rigid hierarchy in colonial practices. The final film ‘ghosts’ doubled images of each of Alya and Olly as they flank the Separate Prison fireplace; wriggling, pinned by symmetry and order.


‘Our work in recent years has been about tracing links between our nervous systems and oppressive and not-oppressive culture (architecture, dress, music style). Both tactics offer a transdisciplinary reading of the Australian curatorial team’s theme Unsettling Queenstown project. Their interest in exploring narrative, temporality and relationality to yield correspondingly rich architectural manifestations has strong connections with our approach.

Yard 1 Cascades Female Factory and Linear Park nipaluna Hobart, lutruwita Tasmania

Film Series 4

The Cascades Female Factory Historic Site and Linear Park, both beside the nipaluna/Hobart Rivulet are two contrasting locations used in this film series. Dean Stevenson’s music composition has pathos to fit the sadness of many of the female convicts’ stories that unfolded in this location. Through the early-mid 1800’s, the ‘factory’ rules determined how the women were to be divided, in both class and duties. There were three different ‘classes’ and the form and function of the architecture accommodated the differences, providing sequential ‘yards’ through women progressed or regressed according to their compliance.

The colony’s clothes were laundered and made on this site.  For unmarried women, pregnancy was a woman’s crime for which time was served – commencing after childbirth. Babies were weaned and removed from their mothers in the early months and taken to other sites – and people. There was a revolving door: Sexual assaults that occurred once women left when assigned to households to clean or cook regularly saw them return, pregnant and ‘criminal’ once again. Filmmaker Nicholas Higgins’ continues with his single-shot modality but this time travels it to provide 360 degree perspectives of the site and the dancers. Sheets for the white costumes in these films were sourced second-hand from suburbs local to Cascades Female Factory.


‘Instinctively, I notice I attempted to re-gender dancing bodies by using costuming that symbolised oppression (length, weight, evocation of corsetry) and asking both men and women to wear them. The feminist in me experiences some satisfaction when Alya struggles with the heavy double-layered skirt he wears in his Cascade Female Factory Yard 1 solo. Olly’s similar solo sees the billowing of her skirted movement juxtaposed with the pedestrian gait of a member of the public who is visiting the site. Worlds and timeframes collide.’

Offering contrast, this series also has two films with natural rockface settings, a stone’s throw from the factory. Alya and Olivia are diminutive in comparison to the rock walls and their movement is unfettered by shrouding fabric.


‘Throughout the making of all these films we have been pondering how possible it is to view with a ‘decolonised eye’ rather than ‘imperial eye’ when looking upon architectural sites. Familiar historical tropes inhabit our sensibilities pervasively; they are ghosts that linger, imprinted. We went to dance with these ghosts, to calmly turn ourselves towards and countenance them. But the site ‘geists’ existed within us as much if not more so than within the sites.

 ‘Decolonisation’ starts in the nervous system.’

Store Room, Convict Cells premaydena | Coal Mines Historic Site, lutruwita | Tasmania Yard 1 Cascade Female Factory nipaluna Hobart, lutruwita Tasmania

Film Series 5

The location for this final film series is mainly premadayna, Coal Mines Historic Site, 27 kms from Port Arthur. It starts with darkness into which Tra Mi Dinh enters, her body falling against walls and her movement marking the hidden limits of a small room filmed in plan view. Then, one, two, three, four bodies enter, revealing a tiny convict cell ruin barely 2 x 1 metres. In order, the dancers are Tra Mi Dinh, Alya Manzart, Gabrielle Martin and Robert Alejandro Tinning. They navigate their way over, around and under each other. They submit to being humans who are ‘subject’ to the materiality, the scale and the smell of the site. We then cut back to Olivia in Yard 1 at the Female Factory, but the film is in negative and, now dressed in black, she ‘reads’ as matron or governess and the stark hierarchy associated with these sites is evoked. The next film returns to the Coal Mines, a site where convicts, labouring long hours to extract the low-grade ore of an ill-conceived mining venture, sought respite from extreme privations via sexual satisfaction in the darkness below ground. Rob and Alya’s subtly masterful duo, filmed through a cell’s tiny window, imagines intimacy: Intimacy infused with traces of complex power dynamics.


‘As I experience Rob’s choice to gaze directly into the camera, looking through and then beyond the tiny porthole window of the cell, I am jolted to recall what I know of his journey as an Ecuador-born Australian.

Rob ‘dances’ the diaspora as a kaleidoscope woven of time, place, viscera and story. Lifelong, his nervous system has been immersed in multiple, criss-crossing cultural and social arcs. In that moment in the film, the artistry that is Rob’s ‘subjectivity’ – all the threads of his story, embodied – coalesce as a powerful channelling of agency that floods the cell’s tiny porthole window.

The camera in the final film is below ground level. Again, the perspective is through a cell’s small window but this time the cell has no roof. Flooded with daylight, dancer Gabrielle’s full-bodied attention to the sensory information coming to her on all sides is compelling. She absorbs it and responds to it becoming, for me, like a dead settler in a Victorian daguerreotype, revived.


Like Rob, Gabby won’t be colonised. While it’s an eerie performance born of the immersion of her nervous system in a below-ground ruin, her own ‘spirit’ and presence remain fully intact. 


‘Using imperialism in the ruin to understand the ruin. Combining movement with the intent to understand/experience the existing historic conditions of the ruin

2023 Biennale Architettura has seen Curator Lesley Lokko persistently lead with the question:

What does it mean to be ‘an agent of change’?

For us, change starts with the human nervous system – more specifically, our autonomic nervous system. We have found that to loosen up extant and entrenched ideologies within our cultural production we have first had to try to ‘decolonise’ our own nervous systems. Such is our imprinting as human animals, it hasn’t been easy:

What happens in vagus, stays in vagus (baby).

Consequently, theories about the human autonomic nervous system have informed our creative processes in recent years. The tactics we bring to the conversation being had at the 2023 Venice Architecture share something of what we have found.Being part of the Open Archive within the Australian Pavilion has enabled creative explorations that we commenced five years ago to find a deeper conversation. We are excited about this. That this conversation is driven by how architecture is connected to both ‘moment and process’ utterly fits with our ongoing preoccupation with how a….

‘state of becoming’

is required in all our acts of creative generation and regeneration, be it architecture or performance. Commitment to a ‘state of becoming’ draws us inexorably to a coalface whereat the integral relationship between vulnerability and risk is often painfully apparent.

We have been inspired by Nayyirah Waheed’s poetry, particularly _the release…




that your

needs and desires



come at the expense of another’s

life energy.

it is being honest


you have been spoiled

by a machine


is not feeding your freedom




The milk of pain.

__the release

nayyirah waheed

Another fundamental foundation for our work over the past five years is the Uluru Statement from the Heart. When we first encountered it in early 2018 we found the generosity of the statement was overwhelming. It had existential resonance for us. We had both turned 50 that year and considered the statement the single most important cultural event of our lifetimes. We felt fortunate to be alive at the juncture in history where such a statement had come into place. The statement offered vital definition to our place, our ‘home’ within ‘Australian’ human history. The statement spoke to our nervous systems, below the level of the brain stem, making our world feel more rational, more real – ‘safer’.

Significantly, the Uluru statement clearly indicated ‘sovereignty’ but did not wield it. It was an offer that sought not to dominate, but to move into step, to pull up alongside or indeed within existing structures to strengthen and synergise, mould and reshape them, to dismantle where needed without ripping down or away. It reminded us of the creative process and here is why:
The ‘state of becoming’ afforded by being inside a creative moment we experience as an ‘antidote to oppression.’

‘Is the idea of ‘safe space’ or ‘I didn’t feel safe’ another way of saying ‘it was oppressive’ ‘that is oppressive’ or, ‘the needs/demands of another’s nervous system or another ontological system are “sovereign” over mine in this moment’?


‘Our work in recent years has been about tracing links between our nervous systems and oppressive and not-oppressive culture (architecture, dress, music style). Both tactics offer a transdisciplinary reading of the Australian curatorial team’s theme Unsettling Queenstown project. Their interest in exploring narrative, temporality and relationality to yield correspondingly rich architectural manifestations has strong connections with our approach.

The aperture through which to engage with this imagery in both tactics is your nervous system. Breathe deeply in and with a longer exhale, sit back and give over to the pace, the sounds and the attention of the dancers’ bodies to site/s. Watch with your gut, connect it with your heart and then head.

In April 2021, Professor Dorita Hannah posited the question ‘what is sovereign here?’ into our process. It continues to ring in my ears.

Site Geist I & II are parts of a larger investigation that faces troubled histories and uncertain futures and unsettles notions of settlement. By opening new terrains of performance and building, we’re asking what shared sovereignty – in the broadest sense; with landscape, bodies, constructed artefacts and multiple species – might look like.’

Lesley Lokko – Curator of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition



What does it mean to be ‘an agent of change’? The question has shadowed the gestation period of The Laboratory of the Future, acting as both counterfoil and lifeforce to the exhibition as it has unfolded in the mind’s eye, where it now hovers, almost at the moment of its birth. Over the past nine months, in hundreds of conversations, text messages, Zoom calls and meetings, the question of whether exhibitions of this scale — both in terms of carbon and cost — are justified, has surfaced time and again. In May last year, I referred to the exhibition several times as ‘a story’, a narrative unfolding in space. Today, my understanding has changed. An architecture exhibition is both a moment and a process. It borrows its structure and format from art exhibitions, but it differs from art in critical ways which often go unnoticed. Aside from the desire to tell a story, questions of production, resources and representation are central to the way an architecture exhibition comes into the world, yet are rarely acknowledged or discussed. From the outset, it was clear that the essential gesture of The Laboratory of the Future would be ‘change’. In those same discussions that sought to justify the exhibition’s existence were difficult and often emotional conversations to do with resources, rights, and risk. For the first time ever, the spotlight has fallen on Africa and the African Diaspora, that fluid and enmeshed culture of people of African descent that now straddles the globe. What do we wish to say? How will what we say change anything? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how will what we say interact with and infuse what ‘others’ say, so that the exhibition is not a single story, but multiple stories that reflect the vexing, gorgeous kaleidoscope of ideas, contexts, aspirations, and meanings that is every voice responding to the issues of its time?

It is often said that culture is the sum total of the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves. Whilst it is true, what is missing in the statement is any acknowledgement of who the ‘we’ in question is. In architecture particularly, the dominant voice has historically been a singular, exclusive voice, whose reach and power ignores huge swathes of humanity — financially, creatively, conceptually — as though we have been listening and speaking in one tongue only. The ‘story’ of architecture is therefore incomplete. Not wrong, but incomplete. It is in this context particularly that exhibitions matter. They are a unique moment in which to augment, change, or re-tell a story, whose audience and impact is felt far beyond the physical walls and spaces that hold it. What we say publicly matters because it is the ground on which change is built, in tiny increments as well as giant leaps.

Lesley Lokko


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Great Southern Dance pays its respects to the original owners of the land upon which we work, the Muwinina and the Mumirimina people.

We acknowledge the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community as the continuing custodians of lutruwita (Tasmania) and honour Aboriginal Elders past and present. We value their history, culture and resilience and acknowledge that sovereignty has never been ceded.

lutruwita milaythina Pakana – Tasmania is Aboriginal Land