Forbes - WOMEN@FORBES

The Limit Does Not Exist

Why Dr Sarah Jane Pell believes every expedition needs an artist.

Feature article on Forbes.com DEC 12, 2016

"In Episode 23 of The Limit Does Not Exist we sat down with Dr. Sarah Jane Pell the night before she set off for an expedition to Mt. Arapiles in Netimuk, Victoria, Australia, for site-specific art-making that explores climate change, adaptive practicies, scarcity and resilience, and nationhood. As you can guess from that sentence alone, it's hard to capture all of the things Pell is and we chose to focus our hour with her on her work as an "artist-astronaut," but trust us that it's worth going down the internet rabbit hole and learning more about Pell's work in other areas.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Pell first told her parents she wanted to go to space at the age of 11. But rather than pursuing a typical path toward astronaut training with a STEM degree at university, she earned a BFA in drawing, an MA in human movement, and a PhD in visual arts. She then logged over 500+ hours as an Occupational Diver contracted to perform repetitive black-water operations under extreme conditions. It was in this intersection of performing and visual arts and deep sea diving that Pell pursued themes of human-aquatic adaptation to other worlds and other extreme-performance interfaces, including pioneering "aquabatics," which I would roughly describe as performing pneumatic choreography.

It was through her research on bodies in extreme environments, including life in space and related analogue circumstances, that she became the first person with a non-science background to be admitted to the International Space University. She also studied at Singularity University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to prepare for her work in SeaSpace research and exploration. Or, in Pell's words, her art spans "sea to space to summit." (Yes, she also climbs mountains.)

If you aren't struck with wonder and let out a good "wow" at some point while listening to this episode, we're not sure much will impress you.

Listen to the Full interview with Dr Sarah Jane Pell, Christina Wallace and Cate Scott Campbell on Forbes on PodcastONE

Here's a few nuggets of wisdom from this episode:

  • "An artist can say, 'Here’s where you need to take that leap.' Suddenly you go from linear thinking to exponential thinking."
  • "The arts and sciences convergence is a way to transform who we are and how we are going to survive as a species."
  • "Every expedition needs an artist."
  • "Bombarded with solutions, we need to keep asking good questions."
  • ⇐ Links to other media