Academic Biography

Australian artist Dr. Sarah Jane Pell has exhibited since 1997. Themes of human-aquatic adaptation to other worlds and other extreme-performance interfaces are central to her work. She is best known for pioneering "aquabatics” that is performed underwater or shown in museums as films and artifacts. She also designs civilian space-analogues, produces speculative fiction, live art, and novel experiments, undertakes expeditions and contributes to exploration science and outreach. A visual and performing arts graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, Victoria University, and Edith Cowan University, Pell went on to train at the Underwater Centre, Fremantle, the International Space University, Singularity University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in preparation for a career in SeaSpace research and exploration. Dr. Pell publishes new research to understand bodies in extremis including life in space and related analogue environments.

Pell established the Aquabatics Research Team initiative [ARTi] for performing pneumatic acts (See Under Current 2002-6, Petrification 2005); integrating advanced-life support systems with choreographic media (See Trans.Port, 2004, Interdepend 2005); and designing and demonstrating prototype-breathing apparatus (See Hydrophilia 2004-6, Odyssey 2005, Tract 2006). From 2003, Pell also aligned herself with SymbioticA: the art and science laboratory at the School of Anatomy & Human Biology, UWA. She collaborated with pioneer bio-artists on the ‘LifeBoat Project: a mobile performance and biotechnology lab’ contained within a ship’s lifeboat and home to the processes of life itself. By 2005, Dr. Pell was selected for the League of New World Explorer as Official Artist-Aquanaut of the subsea habitat Atlantica Expeditions citizen-led program towards permanent undersea human presence and zero-waste colony. The first artist to graduate from the International Space University, Dr. Pell led and co-authored the successful SSP06 team project‘Luna Gaia: a closed loop habitat for the Moon’ under Co-Chair Gen. Dr. S. Pete Worden. NASA HQ approved and adopted outcomes and Popular Science 2007, animated the design and called it “a self-sustaining lunar habitat that would make Al Gore proud." She also participated in the 2006 NASA-SETI Haughton-Mars Project, HMP Lunar Medical Contingency Simulation; Non-tethered Neutral Buoyancy EVA SIMs in France 2006. In parallel, she devised ‘SubCulture: a liminal Bio Sphere’ with art and science producers The Arts Catalyst, London. Her own long-duration submersion-act, SubCulture proposed to examine the human experience on artificial worlds and the bio-political implications of the astrobiological condition. Her activities revealed that divergent human embodiment is indistinguishable from environmental interactions from sea, to summit, to space. Leonardo LABS, MIT, awarded her PhD on Aquabatics as the “Best PhD Art & Science” 2007.

Between 2008-2012, Pell logged over 500+ hours as an Occupational Diver contracted to perform repetitive black-water operations under extreme conditions in the remote, wilderness of Macquarie Harbour. She also visited many space agencies and designed and exhbited a space-art payload that was launched into orbit with JAXA 2009. Valued as an orthogonal thinker, Pell received a priority-scholarship to the Singularity University in 2010 to conduct a NASA-commissioned technology impact report, predict exponential space technology trends, and map pathways to positively impact a billion people in ten years. Her team ignited startups including MadeInSpace and Escape Dynamics. Pell founded Bio-Enhancement Space Technologies [BEST], which failed to get traction. She also co-developed and led tethered-EVA SIM Workshops with Astronaut Dan Barry, NASA Ames Pool 2010; and participated in FMS and VMS Shuttle Pilot Simulations at NASA Ames 2010. Since 2012, Pell has been a Research Associate: AEGIS Research Group (Arts, Ecology, Globalization & the Interpretation of Science) within the RMIT University, School of Art. Many technical and creative publications have resulted (See ‘Ocean Synapse’ with Ben Burke,‘Aquabatics: a post-turbulent performance in water’, and Moon-to-Earth art transmissions 2015). A Visiting Research Fellow, RMIT University 2012-2015, Pell has hacked interaction design and digital systems for use underwater at the Exertion Games Lab and co-authored multiple papers and ARC Discovery submissions on ‘Designing Aquatics Digitial Play to Benefit Australian's Well-being'. As Visiting Faculty, International Space University Southern Hemisphere Pell led EVA Simulation Training Underwater with a remote Mission Control Workshop over 2days with 40 students in 2013. In 2015, Pell led BENDING HORIZONS and reached Everest Base Camp intending to summit Mt. Everest and make art on-route. She unexpectedly faced the Gorka quakes. This is now part 1 of the documentary. She is redesigning a return space analogue expedition for 2017. She also penned ‘Bodies in Extremis’ for publication in Star Ark: a Living, Self-Sustaining Star Ship by Prof. Rachel Armstrong Eds. It also inspired a short film set on Mars "We are all Explorer Fish which premiered at Meta.Morf 2016: Trondheim's Art & Technology Biennale.

In 2016, Dr. Pell qualified as an Artist-Astronaut Candidate for the suborbital spaceflight aeronomy experiment with Project PoSSUM [an acronym for Polar Suborbital Science Upper Mesosphere]. She then partnered Project MOONWALK as the Simulation Astronaut for the Human-Robotic Collaboration EVA Simulation Mission trials at the Comex Undersea Lunar Analogue site, Marseille FR. This 3-year cooperative Research & Development project was funded by the European Commission, while Pell's participation was supported by Skycorp Inc. Pell still dreams of an undersea studio: exploring practice-led-research that combines the body, technology and water in practical and instrumental ways to address present performance and future human interactions. Dr. Pell will join the SeaSpace Research and Exploration Society team at Aquarius Reef Laboratory, US in 2018 as Prime Crew for the Project POSEIDON: 100 Day Undersea mission for a short duration research visit (6-14 days) as an Artist-Aquanaut.

Dr. Pell is honoured as a TED Fellow, Gifted Citizen and Australia Council Fellow. She delivers keynote lectures on the power of an arts framework for igniting technology transfer and new discovery across academic and technical domains to solve real-world problems. She serves on SeaSpace Boards and Committees including: Co-Chair, European Space Agency (ESA) Topical Team Art & Science [ETTAS]; Senior Advisor of Space Art and Human Exploration Initiatives, Icarus Interstellar; Senior Advisor (Diving) The Maritime Union of Australia; and Australian Standards SF-017 Occupational Diving Committee.

Early Life

Sarah Jane Pell was born in Melbourne on the tail of Cyclone Tracy in 1974. It might sound like a dramatic entrance into the world, but for the most part, Sarah had a typically Australian childhood. Her first home was opposite the Harold Holt Pool in Glen Iris. Between the ages of two and eighteen, she lived regional Victoria, sojourning to the sea-side town of Torquay for the summer and to Melbourne for cultural events, sporting competitions and to visit family. Like most Aussie kids, Sarah felt grounded outdoors. She particularly enjoyed climbing trees, building, hammering, exploring bushland and all sorts of water activities. Sarah was naturally athletic, artistic and scholastically inclined nevertheless she hungered for new knowledge and changing environments often taking on as many extracurricula activities as she could. Basketball, tennis, life drawing classes, jazz ballet, high jump, metaphysics and yoga classes were high on the list of priorities. Dr. Pell has been a visual and performing arts professional for 20 years. Her curiosity for exploration has lead to experiment and create human expressions of wonder and awe. Her mother recalled that Sarah was 11 years of age when she first told her family she was planning to go to space. Sarah still believes this is possible and she is passionate about the adopting the principals of underwater architectures and choreographies for use in altered gravity conditions.