disability arts online

All the latest news on 'Creating the Spectacle!'...

16 April 2013


British artist Sue Austin has been invited to give a presentation at TEDMED in Washington DC about her experiences of creating and flying the World’s first underwater wheelchair. The artwork received global attention when she used the underwater wheelchair in a series of choreographed acrobatic underwater events for ‘Creating the Spectacle!’, as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Festival. During the talk Sue will be revealing how her practice has drawn on the commonalities between artistic process and scientific methodologies and how this can create ‘bridges’ to facilitate new understandings about diversity.

Initially commissioned by the Unlimited programme through Arts Council England, ‘Creating the Spectacle!’ is an ongoing series of live art, filmed and web based events. These present the self-propelled underwater wheelchair as it flies along mid-water in a “dramatic demonstration of the joy and freedom it brings”.

Through ‘Creating the Spectacle!’ Sue aims to use the surprising juxtaposition of an NHS wheelchair in an underwater environment to transform preconceptions, create positive empowering images and inspire people on a Global scale. Her You Tube videos have been viewed by over half a million internet users and her work has been seen by millions, after being featured by international media, who have been inspired by her unique vision and spirit, reporting repeatedly on the ongoing story.

After an intense period of activity for 2012 Sue and her team are working towards an exciting multifaceted future vision for ‘Creating the Spectacle!’ through her not-for-profit organisation Freewheeling. This aims to create new ‘portals’ into the work, including:
- a national and international tour of live art events in large tank aquaria
- a national and international tour of live art events in swimming pools with part of the audience underwater
- a film for planetariums
- a commercially available model of the underwater wheelchair
- a touring exhibition of films and documentation showing project evolution, and
- a project in partnership with Plymouth University to develop an academic frame for the value of art created from diverse perspectives as well as researching innovative ways to open up access to creative education and employment.

Sue said:
“I’m thrilled that lots of people have been inspired by the project, many of them telling me how seeing the wheelchair underwater has made them want to try it too. They’re realising that it’s actually extending the boundaries for all of us. We’ve created something new and exciting and it’s really getting people talking. As a result, they’re realising that viewing the world from a different perspective inspires them to be free to explore new experiences.”

Debate about the underwater wheelchair is part of the project. It is Sue’s intention that all those who join the conversation become part of the artwork too. As more underwater footage is released, the worldwide conversations are continuing to grow. Sue’s use of ground breaking new technology continues, as she has just returned from a filming trip to the Camel Dive Centre in Egypt where she was experimenting with 3D and 360 degree footage to extend the project further. Patents for the underwater wheelchair have been published and Freewheeling is currently seeking sponsorship in order to develop a production model. With appropriate training this become a unique activity that will enable others to experience the sense of joy and freedom that she feels when flying through the ocean.

Volunteers and partners all supported Sue in creating an unforgettable experience for the viewers and participants, and the project continues to constantly evolve beyond its original remit. Guy Brasher started working on the project after catching a glimpse of the video on Sue’s laptop in Plymouth University café where she is a Masters student. Guy said:
“After some time I realised that when I saw someone in a wheelchair, I didn’t think about what they were unable to do. I didn’t even wonder what they were able to do. I was wondering what they were able to do that I couldn’t.

“Sometimes art is challenging. The problem with challenging is that lots of people don’t want to be challenged, thank you very much, and are perfectly happy with their preconceptions and prejudices, oblivious of any persuasion. More people, however, like to be befriended, charmed, beguiled and seduced. This is what happened to me after seeing Sue’s achievement. She makes wheelchairs aspirational for the able bodied.”