• Hydrophilia 1 Sarah Jane Pell, BEAP04
  • Hydrophilia 2 Sarah Jane Pell, BEAP04 PICA Video Lorraine Corker
  • Hydrophilia 3 Sarah Jane Pell, BEAP04 PICA Video Lorraine Corker
  • Hydrophilia 4 Sarah Jane Pell, BEAP04 PICA Video Lorraine Corker
  • Hydrophilia 5 Sarah Jane Pell, BEAP04 PICA Video Lorraine Corker
  • Hydrophilia 6 Sarah Jane Pell, BEAP04 PICA Video Lorraine Corker
  • Hydrophilia 7 Sarah Jane Pell, BEAP04 PICA Video Lorraine Corker
  • Hydrophilia 8 Sarah Jane Pell, BEAP04 PICA Video Lorraine Corker
  • Hydrophilia 9 Sarah Jane Pell, BEAP04 PICA Video Lorraine Corker
  • Hydrophilia 10 Sarah Jane Pell, BEAP04 PICA Video Lorraine Corker

Hydrophilia // Live Art Performance 111mins & Media Artifact

The process of making Live art, (and indeed life) has value in conferring desires rather than escaping fears. Aquabatics is not a passage of suffering.

Hydrophilia 2004, Sarah Jane Pell BEAP04@PICA


PICA Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts Studio Residency

BEAP04 Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth 2004

Pell performs wearing a prototype Surface-Supplied Breathing Apparatus SSBA dubbed an "Oyster" diving helmet filled with 30lt of saline. Air is drawn from the surface via an umbilical. The sinuses are flooded. Controlled epiglottal function prevents drowning. The performance continues under commercial diver supervision and protocols exploring fields of consciousness and pneumatoses for 111minutes.


Is it possible to encounter subspace through land-based ritual?
Hydrophilia revealed the art of courting danger by confronting the body to act in unnatural ways. It concentrated the techne diving and of faith. The spectator was implicated in threat or promise of asphyxiation and their sadistic, innocent pleasure, was either diverted or compounded by the rhythmical, meditative and metronome-quality breathing soundtrack that accompanies the performance and provides an immersive and soothing fabric to the work. There was a kind of pathos in the vision and the limited action that I could perform whilst wearing the headpiece so the diver | ocean | aquanaut had to be re/member/ed or imagined. The most memorable feedback came from a nine-year-old friend Casey. His mother asked him what he thought the performance was about and he replied, "Sarah was dreaming." Casey was right. It was a space for dreaming. (Another child reported seeing imaginary sharks and sat on the floor to play with them too so I guess the notion of the ocean translated in more ways than I imagined.) The poetics of this piece allowed for an analogue, simulation and a real space to coexist. The long duration and the slow breathing stretched and slowed down perceived measures of time between inhalations and exhalations. It brought about an ocean-time or desert-time, and, as Baudrillard might say, there became 'the silence of the image'. If I was right, we all shared our territories and experiences through pneumatoses.
In Memory of John (Jack) McCunnie -2004


  • The process of making Live art, (and indeed life) has value in conferring desires rather than escaping fears. Aquabatics is not a passage of suffering.
  • Saline is much more suitable than water for long periods of immersion.
  • The compression on the spinal column leads to vertebra fractures and places pressure on the spinal fluids. Rather than a fall arrestor a weight-relieving device should be used in future.
  • The engineering of the "Oyster" needs to be reconsidered so that the neck dam doesn't leak. I should also be able to slip out of it should I faint or choke – because the permanent 'gaffer' top-seal – whilst waterproofing- means that I would hang myself if I passed out!
  • In future non-slip marine matting should be placed in the waterproofing tray, to prevent slipping or falling that in the current configuration would break my neck.
  • Aquabatics is a state of mind and a condition of the body that is about engagement and confrontation with fears and desires for the artist and audience.

MK1 "Oyster" Prototype Helmet & Equipment

The site of the performance had to be constructed, and operated, in strict adherence to the requirements and recommendations of both the Australia Standards for commercial diving activities ASNZ 2299:1999 and the occupational health and safety regulations of the gallery. This meant that the performance itself had to be carried out according to the protocols of conduct and safe operation with fully qualified standby diver support teams. Supporting 'diving' equipment was stowed on three window ledges to the audiences' right hand side of the dive site along the back wall. This included 20-30lts Saline Solution, 10 white bathroom towels, 1 First aid kit, 1 Oxy Viva, 1 Tool kit, 1 Bucket and a copy of the ARTi Operations Manual, n-date Diver Log Book and associated paperwork. These precautionary requirements heightened the aspects of operation, performance, risk management and accuracy that play such a large part of my performance planning across all acts/actions/activisms.

The main installation comprised of a custom made leaning apparatus designed to support my sacrum iliac and lower back. The curvature of its small arc could be used as either an armrest or a stabilising orientation device in poor visibility. The perch was made from welded steel with neoprene padding and chrome finishes on the arm ends. It was bolted to a dive platform (2m x 2m hardwood ply tray edged with 4"x2" supports and lined with black plastic). I dressed in a black evening frock, Lycra hood, an adjustable neoprene neck dam and a custom designed and fabricated surface supplied breathing helmet called an "Oyster".

The "Oyster" was an apparatus fashioned from two 3mm solid acrylic sheets hand molded into semi spheres and then welded together. The domes were molded to the size of a commercial surveillance camera surround called an oyster. The neck hole was cut across the seam by hand and eye then filed down to create an irregular opening that would accommodate the shape of my head (but not ears!). A section of PVC plumbing was heat molded to make a neck brace and glued to the thin irregular edge of the cavity. I lined the inner seams with sticky-back neoprene, gaffer tape and silicone glue then drilled, glued and fitted marine quality steel and silicone fittings for the mouth piece, hose, and small filter over the air vent, attaching a quick-release valve that could also double as a bilge and filling port and a u-clip to hang the helmet from. The oyster was finished with a stainless steel clamp around the entire neck fitting securing the rubber dry suit neck seal from the body to the oyster shell itself to create a water proof seal and a glistening "watertight" aesthetic.

The "Oyster" was suspended above the perch by wire rope leading to a retractable pulley installed in the ceiling to act as a fall arrestor, an orientation guide and to minimise the direct weight being born on my spinal column. (When I was not present, the "Oyster" was suspended at my eye height approx 174cm from the ground.) The performance site was lit with 6 cams and 12LEDs directed from an underwater camera positioned at the front of the dive platform.


Heinonen, T., (2006) Aquabatics - performancsseja sisaavaruudessa. Mita Tapahtuu Estystaiteen ja sukel-lusteknologian kohdetessa? Vappa Kirjoittaja Sukeltaja; Teatteri – Esitystaiteen Aikakauslehti, Porovoo Finland. 7/06 pp. 36-37.

Marshall, J., (2005) The Art of Life Support, Real Time & On Screen Vol 68, Aug/ Sep 2005, p.48

Britton, S., (2005) uncollectable artists? New Work 'Aquabatics' Sarah Jane Pell, Artlink Australia, Vol 25 No 3, pp.58 -59.

Bell, S., (2005) Heidegger & BioTech Art, Paper given at SymbioticA, the art & science laboratory, School of Anatomy & Human Biology, University of Western Australia, December 17

BEAP04 Opening Night

Extra-vehicluar activity


This work was developed with the support of a PICA Research & Development Grant made possible by the State of WA through ArtsWA in association with the Lotteries Commission, 2003.

Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts

ArtsWA and Lottery West

National Association of Visual Arts

The NAVA Visual and Craft Artists' Grant, managed by NAVA with financial assistance from the Visual Arts/Craft Board of the Australia Council, the Simpson-Michel Foundation and Pat Corrigan, sponsored this project.

Live Performance

STUDIO II Sea of Live(d) Dreams Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts AU 2004

BEAP 04 Biennale of Electronic Arts, Perth PICA AU 2004

Exposition History

2007 International New Media Festival, Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan 2007

BOOM! Fast and Frozen Permutations in New Media, TNUA Taipei, Taiwan 2007

SPARTEN: Space, Art & Environment, Reykjavik Arts Festival Iceland 2006

FREEDMAN AWARDS, Stepps Gallery Sydney AU 2006

HANDS FREE Dorchester Arts Centre UK 2005

HANDS FREE 2m2 Gallery Stavanger Norway 2005

MAF05 Multimedia Asia Pacific Festival Bangkok Thailand 2005

WALKING WITH WATER Western Australian Maritime Museum AU 2005


The original Pell "oyster" fabrication Hank, Acrylic Domes and Displays Co. and modified by Jason van der Schyff, Pacific Commercial Divers. The custom-brace "perch" fabrication Will Huntley. ADAS Dive Supervisors Paul Masters, Corioli Souter. Installation James Vernau. Production Assistance Kieran Stewart, Robert Pilkington. Documentation Lorraine Corker. Post Production editing Lorraine Corker, Roly Skander.