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28 June 2012

Guy Brasher talks about The Freewheelin’ Sue Austin

Four people in wetsuits lift Sue out of the water at Fleet Lagoon in her wheelchair

Guy (far left) helps out with The Coolest Thing He's Ever Seen!

I was sitting in Plymouth University’s Roland Levinsky building on the first floor when I first saw Sue’s work. I was transfixed. I could not take my eyes off her laptop, which was about 3 metres away from me on another table.

I had no idea what she was up to, what it meant, where it was going. But the phrase that kept bouncing around my head was “That is The Coolest Thing I Have Ever Seen.”

When I saw Sue again I introduced myself and she was kind enough to show some new footage.

The Coolest Thing I Had Ever Seen was getting much cooler. I made an appointment to see her again. But the exciting thing about this work is how it stays with you and bounces around your brain.

To help me remember what I had seen, I listened repeatedly to a song by Elbow, An Audience With The Pope and played Sue’s images in my head. The song was, I believe, the band’s attempt at writing a theme for an imagined James Bond film. It seemed appropriate because Sue is like some Bond-girl/Super-hero archetype.

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.

After seeing Sue’s work, it is possible to imagine a school playground with children playing, pretending to be underwater and at the centre of it all is the kid in the wheelchair. She makes them look…cool.

When the media use the word ‘beautiful’, I think they really mean ‘pretty’. Nothing wrong with pretty but beautiful is oh, so much more.

I think the formula for beautiful = outside aesthetic + intelligence + soul.

So when I say that Sue’s work is breathtakingly, mouth agape stunningly, eye-moisteningly beautiful, please understand it is in that context.

It was the mood of the Elbow song that drew me to attach it to Sue’s work in my head. But the lyrics have been prophetic:
“I’ve an audience with the Pope
And I’m saving the world at eight
But if she says she needs me
She says she needs me
Everybody’s gonna have to wait.”

I’m now rearranging my Summer plans because if I can help in some way, on The Coolest Thing I Have Ever Seen…well what could be cooler than that?