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Viewing the world from a different perspective

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underwater‘No one has ever heard of an underwater wheelchair’.

Through improvised performances in an underwater wheelchair, Sue Austin’s art asks viewers to reconceive their conceptions of what disability is and what is possible when living with disability.

Austin says that her works of transformation are designed to involve spectators.

‘Because no one has ever heard of an underwater wheelchair before (and it is about creating new ways of seeing, being and knowing), now that you have this concept in your mind, you are part of the artwork too.’

Called Creating the Spectacle, the videoed performance is Austin’s underwater ballet.

Filmed in 2012 in the waters off Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt, she says that it feels more like flying than diving.

Having used a wheelchair since 1996, after a long-term illness led to issues with her mobility, Austin’s first experience in an electric wheelchair brought her ‘an amazing sense of exhilaration at being free to speed through the streets, mobile again.’

When she began training in 2005 as a disabled diver, she noticed similar feelings of freedom and adventure and sought to capture and replicate those feelings through her art.

Initially funded by a grant from the Arts Council England, Austin’s repertoire now includes web and live performances as part of London’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad, a film installation at London’s Royal Festival Hall, international tours as part of live art events, international screenings of her films and speaking at TEDxWomen in Washington DC.

And now Austin’s multi-media approach to art is expanding into the world of business.

She is the founder and creative director of Freewheeling, a ‘disability-led initiative providing a “hub” around which to foster integrated arts projects.’

Part of Freewheeling’s mission is to help reposition disability arts more firmly and clearly in the general arts and cultural sectors, and Austin emphasises that academic research is an important part of accomplishing that.

She is currently finishing her MA in Contemporary Art Practice at Plymouth University, and her work will be on display as a part of the 2013 MA show from 12 to 18 July.

Other forthcoming works include film screenings in Austria, a live performance in the fifth largest aquarium in the world and a live art event in Germany in November.

And as part of Austin’s work as a Director of Freewheeling, she and her team are in the process of developing a commercially available underwater wheelchair.

The wheelchair that Austin uses in her performances has two propellers, an acrylic hydrofoil on each side and an inflatable dive wing in the back and is a design that she and her diving partners have perfected over time.

Patents for the chair have been published, and ‘Freewheeling is currently seeking sponsorship’ to complete the development of the project.

Having named her underwater wheelchair Portal ‘because it has literally pushed me through into a new dimension, into a new way of being,’ Austin believes that ‘viewing the world from a different perspective inspires [everyone] to be free to explore new experiences.’

Freewheeling is on Facebook and YouTube.

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