Sue Austin

Multimedia, performance & installation artist

CTS! The Mouth of Fleet Lagoon

The performance at the Mouth of the fleet Lagoon was the first part of the ‘Creating the Spectacle!’ groundbreaking series of live art events for the Cultural Olympiad. Sue Austin undertook the first public journey of the underwater wheelchair through the challenging currents of the Fleet Lagoon.

The event started with a celebratory procession of invited participants & morris dancing local children, starting at the Ferrybridge Inn and moving across the bridge. Onlookers observed from the land and from the Fleet Observer Boat. Sue & the wheelchair dramatically plunged underwater and started to travel across the lagoon. The intense currents after some days of heavy rain swept her and her safety divers up further into the Lagoon and they had to be retreived by the safety rib which made for a very dramatic part of the event.

When she got to the other side, Sue was welcomed by music and dance as the crowd waved red flags in celebration of her freedom & safe return. Fleet Lagoon Nature Reserve Warden Don Moxom helped us to create a new myth for the 21st century by renaming Sue 'Dolphinius Austinus' The event was in partnership with Chesil Bank and Fleet Nature Reserve, Dinosaurs Not Allowed and local schools Beechcroft and Wyke Regis.

This review has been reproduced with kind permission from Gini & Disability Arts Online.

Review: Unlimited: Sue Austin creating 'Creating the Spectacle!' at the Fleet, Dorset

1 July 2012
a photograph of a woman in a wheelchair being carried through the water by a group of people

Sue Austin and the 'Creating the Spectacle!' team emerge from the Fleet after filming. Image courtesy Gini.

Another of the Unlimited commissions got a public outing on Wednesday 27 June. Sue Austin, whose work ‘Creating the Spectacle!’ will be enacted in its entirety on 29 August and filmed for showing at Southbank’s festival in September, showed off the wheelchair which is her vehicle to another world.

Wednesday’s event was part of the preparation and rehearsals for it all. Gini went to see what was going on (her response to the day is below), along with several VIPs, lots of local school children (who are providing a Morris Dance for the piece) and many of the local people who live near the Fleet who have grown used to seeing Sue up to her antics on this part of the Dorset coast.

Gini wasn't the only person reporting back about it all. ITV had a film crew present and it made the news that evening!

What emerges from the day is that while Sue Austin’s seemingly effortless pose in her image, Portal, which has become symbolic of what she is doing and gives a hint of what is to come, the hard work and preparation, physical and technical, in order to achieve it all has been remarkable.

‘Creating the Spectacle!’ 27 June 2012, Filming the Fleet

I wore red - as red as it gets in my wardrobe - and drove into a promising day.

On the ridgeway, mist swirled down around me and my journey to the sea was cloaked in mystery.

The pot-holed and squelchy carpark was reluctant to release my wheelchair, but a sense of anticipation and anxiety urged me out and up to a level pavement.

Red flags festooned the area, red-clad people were milling, chatting, keeping an eye on the water. I was greeted by name, welcomed, drawn in and embraced.

The gathering was spread below me on ground akin to the car-park: unsuitable for wheelborne, but ramping solidly into the racing water.

And the sea disappeared into a mist that domed over us, holding the sounds low and separating us all from reality.

We waited and watched for the star of the show; we were friends and crew; we were guests and strangers, content to be near the action.

The good-natured anticipation was unaffected by cold fingers of mist creeping under brollies and clinging to wet hair and skin. Then ‘Just as the Tide was Flowing’, and the soft jingle of small bells heralded a crocodile of youngsters kitted out for the Morris Dance that would start and end this unique occasion.

Out on the water the VIP boat turned with a touch of impatience; camera crews everywhere recorded, paused and polished lenses.

We waited and watched the tide; a companionable silence of unknowing settled into the mist.

With one hand on the joy-stick and the other occupied by the brolly, I needed a third hand for my camera. I was determined to come away with pictures of this cluster of red faith balancing contained excitement, waiting in a dull, wet world.

Suddenly the chair was there, like a throne, facing the grey water in a moment of solitary splendour and our attention closed in faster than the mist. It was going to happen.

Maybe and certainly.

And Sue was in the chair, the divers were adjusting gear, the diver with the red marker balloon was in the water. This was it. They really were going in.

The crowd that had amassed to wave farewell were encouraged to cross the bridge and collect on the opposite side, eager to encourage and welcome the chairborne aquanaut back to dry land.

The underwater wheelchair disappeared underwater - rapidly. The red marker balloon and three heads bobbed clear of the surface and the little party began to move in the water - but sideways. The people disappeared under the surface, and we focused on the bright red symbol.

A determined struggle with the tide took them at right angles to the imagined path across the Fleet lagoon, but slowly and stubbornly, the symbolic red balloon arced back to its destination.

Excited chattering Morris Children streamed over the bridge in keen anticipation. The VIPs steadied themselves on the water.

Completing a semi-circle, the red marker balloon and its diver emerged having safely crossed the lagoon. The rest of the party was no-where to be seen.

We paused, we held our breath, time stood still.

We waited, we scanned the surface for bubbles, a cloud of red carnations bled out into the Fleet and a small voice echoed over the water: where is she?

The underwater wheelchair had been grabbed by the strong tide, and dramatically, the rescue boat swept in to assist both chair and divers to their destination. Relief smiled on our faces as the red carnations disappeared into the breaking mist.

Sue and the underwater wheelchair crossed the Fleet Lagoon; the Morris Children cheered and jingled and the VIPs piled in to congratulate with microphones and cameras.

The crowd dispersed with the 'brave' word bobbing through departing conversations.

The skyline, fractured by mist, began to heal and our hidden world disappeared like magic.The underwater wheelchair was gone as suddenly as it arrived, but I saw it. I watched it happen. I was there.

Fingers of mist came swirling, curling around my day;
colours of red were swallowed whole, reflections
smudged in a sea of grey. Hungry the mist
descended around the chair, like a secret
keeper of myths; to convince me the legend
was all in my mind, the evidence simply
not there. And the struggle against the tide
a metaphor for the truth, the battle
of visibility raged, yet was won
by people together, as teams triumphed
the impossible morphed to a done deal.
The whispers were true, the evidence clear
red on the water was carried away,
but the wheelchair underwater was fact,
the adventure, imprinted forever clear,
caught in the frame of a magical day.