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29 November 2013

Press Release from Plymouth University November 2013

Spectacular underwater performance earns wheelchair artist an invitation to NASA

Friday 29 November 2013

A pioneering performance premiered during the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad is going galactic after its creator was invited to address scientists at NASA.

Plymouth University Fine Art graduate Sue Austin worked with the University and a number of other partners across the country to develop an underwater wheelchair for her piece ‘Creating the Spectacle!’, which she performed as part of Unlimited last summer.

The response to the visually stunning performance was so positive that Sue, currently studying at Plymouth University for a Masters degree in Fine Art, has been invited by NASA to speak at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

The request came after Sue, in the wake of ‘Creating the Spectacle!’, was invited to speak at a TEDxWomen conference in Washington DC, one of a range of international engagements she has undertaken on the back of her performance’s success.

Sue, who lives in North Devon, said: “I never could have imagined how this work would attract people’s attention across the world or that it would lead to so many positive responses about how the work has impacted on people’s lives. It’s such an honour to be invited to these prestigious venues and I’m really excited about the trip and the new creative possibilities and collaborations it could spark.”

Sue will speak as part of NASA’s Innovation Technical Speaker Series, developed as a forum for experts in industry, academia, and government to share their experiences and successes. Speakers, who address an audience of NASA officials and invited guests, have included international leaders from IT and technology firms as well as pioneering global researchers in medicine, science and the arts.

Professor David Coslett, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Plymouth University, said: “Sue Austin's story is a fantastic example of someone who has taken their dream and, despite many obstacles, made it a reality. Her creativity and innovative thinking and her willingness to push the boundaries, are characteristics we look to inspire in our students. Sue is an amazing ambassador who shows just what can be achieved with Plymouth University.”

Following her talk on Wednesday 4th December, and with funding from the Artists’ International Development Fund, a joint initiative from Arts Council England and the British Council, Sue will visit California to attend a screening and post film discussion of "FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement". Featuring excerpts of her work the film, directed by Regan Brashear, was recently awarded 'Best Documentary over 30 minutes at the 'Picture This... Film Festival' 2014.

She will also be meeting other artists, disability activists and producers as well as making connections with potential partners for future international performances of the underwater wheelchair. She has also been invited to speak about her experiences at the world-leading Stanford University’s Spinal Injuries Unit as well as the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England said: “The Artists' international Development Fund helps us achieve our aim of ensuring talent and artistic excellence are thriving and celebrated. We want artists to be open to international perspectives and to expand their horizons. Sue’s work is all about expanding horizons and I’m certain that this award will bring about new opportunities both for Sue, and for audiences here and abroad to engage with her work.”


Notes to Editors

For details of how to watch Sue’s talk at NASA, visit www.plymouth.ac.uk.

Attached is an image of Sue Austin performing in her underwater wheelchair. Please credit this image to – Artist: Sue Austin, Copyright Freewheeling, Photo: Norman Lomax.

For more information about this news release, contact Plymouth University Press & PR Officer Alan Williams on 01752 588004 or email alan.williams@plymouth.ac.uk. For more information about Sue Austin’s work, contact Andrea Frankham-Hughes, Project Manager of Freewheeling, on 07971 058336 or email freewheeling4andrea@gmail.com.

About Plymouth University

Consistently ranked as one of the leading universities in the UK, and awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2012, Plymouth has a strong record of excellence, enterprise and innovation across its teaching and research activities. Distinguished by its long-term engagement with business and the community, the University enjoys outstanding links with employers and plays a key role in civic and regional leadership. It is the only university in the world to have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark in recognition of its work in support of the sector.

With around 30,000 students, including those studying higher education at its partner colleges throughout the South West, the University is one of largest in the UK. It enjoys a high rate of graduate employment and has recently invested more than £150 million in its estate and facilities to enhance the student experience and support world-class research.

Plymouth has embedded sustainability across its operations, and is the overall best performing university in the People & Planet Green League. It is the first modern university to found a medical and dental school – the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry – and is the leading provider of Higher Education in Cornwall. For more information, please visit www.plymouth.ac.uk

About Sue Austin and Freewheeling

Sue Austin is a multimedia, performance and installation artist. Over an extended period of time her practice has operated as a vehicle to open up a thinking space around the materiality of the wheelchair. This is being used as a metaphor to raise questions about the value of diversity to society through raising the profile of ‘difference’.

Freewheeling is a disability led initiative focused on providing a ‘hub’ around which to foster integrated arts projects. We aim to allow ideas and artistic concepts to develop while maintaining an emphasis on promoting academic research that acts to reposition Disability Arts and the status of disabled artists within the arts and cultural sector. For more details, visit http://wearefreewheeling.org.uk

‘Creating the Spectacle!’ is delivered in partnership with Arts Council England, Plymouth University, Adaptacar, IT3000, ICCI (Plymouth University), C-Waves Diving, Dan Burton Photography, Diveheart UK, Pegasus Thruster, Camel Dive Club, Scuba Travel, Patently Creative, Fathom and Blues, Silent Planet, Underwater Explorers, O’Three, SurfSurfSurf, Diving and Marine Solutions, Cameras Underwater, Aquatica, B-side multimedia arts festival, Kaleido, Moving Content UK, Osprey Leisure Centre, Chesil Beach and Fleet Nature Reserve, Purbeck Film Festival and independent producers