For Renate Pohl, earth is not the final frontier for art.
Pohl is an assistant professor of technical theatre production in the Grenfell Campus School of Fine Arts. She's been contemplating the idea that techniques used in theatre production could be useful in space travel. "I'm interested in finding ways to support the peaceful movement of people into a space faring future," said Pohl.
As a theatre designer Pohl works with sets, costumes, and props to help bring the artistic vision of a production's director into reality. Her biggest interest is in lighting; the language of light and what it can convey. "Light connects us to the universe," said Pohl.
Theatrical lighting is used to tell stories, convey feelings and change moods. In theatre, light is manipulated for entertainment value, but Pohl believes that it can be used to solve some of the challenges humans face when they're living in space including limited human contact, sensory deprivation, confined spaces, and detachment from nature. Light, she theorizes, can be used in space to keep humans stimulated and happy when they're living in an isolated, high-risk environment.
While her formal education is in the arts, Pohl has always been interested in mathematics and science. In 2012, she attended the International Space University's Space Studies Program, an intensive interdisciplinary program, which provided a broad overview of the space industry. There she found a cast of professionals that included lawyers, medical doctors, policy makers, architects, military personnel, engineers and telecommunications scientists. "It opened conversations with space industry professionals," she said. "I went in with a question and come out with more questions. It was inspiring."
The question Pohl hopes to answer is "What can an artist bring the space industry?" She is looking at the challenges faced in the space industry and how art can help solve them. She's particularly interested in scenographic holograms. "They're super cool, and very magical and technically fascinating," she said.
Pohl explained that the limitations of gravity make sending physical objects into space a complex and expensive process. But light is weightless and it can be used to manipulate the environment humans are living in when they're on long-term space missions. For example, holograms could be used to create a forest for space travelers to stroll through. Time spent in nature has psychological benefits for humans and access to even a holographic forest could give people a sense of returning home in an otherwise foreign and risky environment.
In 2014 Pohl was commissioned by the European Space Agency (ESA) to create a sculpture that included a hologram of a silver medallion. The hologram stays on earth and the medallion travels with the astronauts to the International Space Station. The piece, entitled Twin Earth Object acts as a symbolic link between the astronauts and their ground crew and draws on theatrical props and lighting design.
She's still in the early stages of inquiry, but so far one of the most surprising discoveries Pohl has made is that the space industry is open to the involvement of artists. "When I first started delving into this, I didn't think people would take me seriously as an artist working in collaboration with scientists. It's a delightful surprise."
ABOUT FOR THE RECORD:
the semester we will highlight some of the interesting research taking
place at Grenfell Campus. The articles will appear here, and will be
compiled on the research webpage.
Article prepared by: Alli Johnston
Canada Council for the Arts
Grenfell Campus Research Grant
University of Toronto Institute for Optical Sciences
ESA European Astronaut Centre