Exhibition review: The Human Spaceship

Sophie Wilson shares her thoughts on Helen Schell's latest exhibition

Sophie Wilson
22nd October 2020
The Human Spaceship exhibition is a collection of art by Helen Schell. Being displayed at the Commercial Union House in Newcastle, this project is named “Off Balance", and details the experience of space travel. 

Geometry, optical illusions and colour manipulation all form the basis of these works. These represent the altered vision that you get when the gravity conditions are different from our everyday lives: if you are on a long term human spaceflight, then the world looks very abstract compared to what you are used to. The images are intended to disable the viewer so that they feel (as the title suggests) off balance.  

What is interesting here is where Schell got her inspiration. The artists went on a research trip to Houston in the USA in 2019. Invited to be a guest artist at a university in Texas, she managed to meet leading human spaceflight scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre; these experiences all form the basis of this artwork. 

So, how does the change in gravity affect vision, and how does the exhibition show this? 

Visual-spatial awareness is largely changed through space-living, and it is a long term consequence. Furthermore, in space, there is no atmosphere and so it is difficult to perceive distances. What is interesting is the damage that can be caused permanently to the eye, because far-sighted issues become a prevalent issue. Due to the optic nerve getting distorted by the movement of spinal fluid to the brain, a long journey to Mars may mean that near-sighted issues are induced. 


The exhibition shows this by creating boxes in 3D form, boxes that overlap and seemingly come towards you in the picture. However, upon further inspection, these boxes could be pointing anyway because the visual effect created is one of disjunction; there is no one set way to perceive this image. Other parts of the exhibition show black and white squares set in a pattern so that the viewer cannot depict how far the squares are away from them and in what direction they are moving. As seen in these two examples, direction and the lack of interpreting it is key to this exhibition. 

You can view the exhibition for free online here, or book a slot to see it in person. 

Featured Image: Art Matters Now

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