New Territories (2003) Glasgow, UK

Second Nature Second Skin

The National Review of Live Art: NRLA Platform Performance

Sarah Jane Pell

“There shall be wings! If the accomplishment be not for me, ‘tis for some other. The spirit cannot die; and man, who shall know all and shall have wings…” Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).

1 Second Nature Second Skin, Sarah Jane Pell, NRLA 2003 2 Second Nature Second Skin, Sarah Jane Pell, NRLA 2003 3 Second Nature Second Skin, Sarah Jane Pell, NRLA 2003 4 Second Nature Second Skin, Sarah Jane Pell, NRLA 2003 5 Second Nature Second Skin, Sarah Jane Pell, NRLA 2003

Second Nature: Second Skin, 2003 by Sarah Jane Pell, premiered at New Territories incorporating The National Review of Live Art, Glasgow 2003

Constructing the "Wings" AFWA Old Customs House Studio & Floating Passions 2002

The design of the custom-made wings replicated a sketch by da Vinci held at the Natural History Museum London. The first-edition wings were constructed by Floating Passions, Fremantle from molded cane, chicken wire, nylon and rabbit-skin glue as described. They were scaled to my 186cm long body minus the yoke crossbar. After some preliminary testing the wings were modified. The second-edition wings made away with the chicken wire for a thin acrylic sheet which acted a transparent sail/arm fin/paddle for greater propulsion. I had performed some tests and rehearsals at the Beatty Park dive pool with assistants Luke Pither and I was painfully aware of the limitations of the winged prosthesis. The chicken wire cut into my skin. The “hi-tech cable ties” attached along my arms (replacing the glued nylon) did not have any elasticity so when I moved the wing from my ‘hinged-elbow’ it was the limb itself that had to accommodate the compression and extension and not the fixture. In a short time, I had very little feeling in my extremities. The temperature of the water was low and the vasso restrictive costume meant that I was getting very cold even though I was producing a lot of body heat by working hard. The scale of the ‘fin-like’ wing with its 3.85m span caused an immense drag and required considerable shoulder propulsion without any point of advantage for the body. The workload correlated to an increase in air consumption and, as my cylinder depleted, it became more buoyant. I had to address the issue by wearing an unsightly weight belt. The weight belt lowered my centre of balance waywardly and I found it difficult to propel the wings without folding my torso over in a butterfly motion to push and pull the wings through the drag of the water to emulate flying.

Sarah Jane Pell with Underwater Wings, Beatty Park Pool 2002 Photo: The West Australian Sketches Of Glider By Leonardo Da Vinci - Getty Images

Sarah Jane Pell with Underwater Wings, Beatty Park Pool 2002 Photo: The West Australian. Sketches Of Glider By Leonardo Da Vinci - Getty Images.

Filming "underwater flying" using DaVinci's glider as winged instruments of the ocean, Rottnest Island, Western Australia 2002

Underwater cinematographer Paul "Wooly" Wolstenholm and Production assistant Marco Mona travelled to picturesque Rottnest Island with the wings, an ABC TV crew and me for one afternoon of shooting. Our movement investigation came from a desire to see if it is possible to loose all sense of navigational coordination and to disappear into a particular spatial orientation that comes with it and the gleeful abandonment of directionality. Can I loose sense of gravity momentarily to connect to and separate from the cosmos? Can I feel totally empowered and utterly inconsequential in one breath? Could this be finally achieved by emulating flying in the ocean as I predicted? It was rediculously difficult. Yet once I forgot about my self-imposed instruction to fly and let myself flounder and fall, I began to enage with the performance possibilities. Paul Wolstenholm, the underwater cinematographer, positioned himself nearly seven meters below me to make the best of the fading light. He captured my silhouetted movements from above against the sunlight beams cutting through the water particles and glistening behind my form. I remembered the birdman contraptions and gave myself the opportunity to laugh at my own folly. What would the fish be thinking? The movements that followed this surrender to the sea were wonderfully poetic.

New Territories incorporating The National Review of Live Art, Glasgow UK 2003

I also presented Second Nature: Second Skin composing in part of the underwater performance pre-recorded in Western Australia, and a live platform performance in The Arches basement space. The resulting performance attempt was akin to the poetry of ‘The Falls’ 1980 the bird film by Peter Greenaway in the sense that it is, as the title suggests, “something of Georges Bataille’s delight in the puncturing of those human pretensions which the fall of Icarus so concisely symbolises” [Baker 2000]. My quiet aquatic work looked lost amongst the audience and filthy venue. I entered the space dragging an anchor. It hardly provided any resistence on the concrete floor unlike the large vessel anchors I had dragged across the sands of Bathers Bay in rehearsal in Western Australia. The audience showed little recognition that I was performing amongst them: as they waited facing the screen. My hair has been greased to look wet, and I ended up with it in one eye. It closed, weaping reddened and inflamed. I let many of the pre-choreographed and rehearsed elements of the work dissolve into the confused eyes upon me. I drew a circle in salt and cuttlefish on the ground, and recited poetry about desertification, salination and hydrophilic desires from Paul Carter's book SALT. What remained was a kind of separation anxiety: a fish out of water, sitting with her audience, looking up at a porthole projection of an aquanaut moving about in her aquatic world. While it was a tough gig, it was also a generously supported experimental process. After discussions with established artists, I now have a greater understanding of how components of my research could be better staged.

Sarah Jane Pell, New Territories Platform Performance NRLA 2003 Sarah Jane Pell, 1 New Territories Platform Performance  NRLA 2003 Sarah Jane Pell, 3 New Territories Platform Performance NRLA 2003

Sarah Jane Pell, NRLA Platform Performance, New Territories, Glasgow, The Arches 2003 Photos: Live Art Archives Bristol University UK

Media Performance Screenings and Mixed Media Exhibition Installation

The footage is now presented in galleries as a large-scale video slow-motion looped projection with a haunting 'underwater breathing' soundscape. Second Nature Second Skin 2003 is often paired with the silent fast-paced and frolicking media performance Revolution 2005. Both may be installed as a distinct media performance installation or shown as part of a museum-style exhibit accompanied by the two performance apparatus: the silver "wings" suspended and spot lit; and the silver "wheel" precariously positioned so as to lure and temp visitors with the desire to either take flight or chance a ride. Exhibitions include: Boom! International Australian-Taiwan New Media Arts Festival, Teipei Taiwan 2007; Freedman Awards, Stepps Gallery, Sydney Australia 2006; Hatched, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Perth Australia 2006; Walking with Water, Western Australian Maritime Museum, Fremantle Australia 2005; and New Territories, The National Review of Live Art, Glasgow UK 2003


Marshall, J., (2005) The Art of Life Support, Real Time & On Screen Vol68, Aug/Sep 2005, p.48; Britton, S., (2005) uncollectable artist? New Work ‘Aquabatics’ Sarah Jane Pell, Artlink Australia, Vol25 No.3, p.58.; Ed. (2005) Walking with Water, Intersector WA Public Sector Magazine, Vol11, No.6, 1 July 2005 p.26; English, A. (2005) Artnotes WA: Sarah Jane Pell, Art Monthly Australia, No.180 June 2005 p.51.

This performance was presented at the National Review of Live Art in 2003 with support from the Australian Network for Art and Technology [ANAT] in association with the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body. With thanks to Sharon Flindell, City of Swan and producers New Moves International Ltd. This work is part of the Aquabatics Research Team initiative (ARTi) and in part, informed PhD research.

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