Sue Austin

Multimedia, performance & installation artist

CTS! Pool Performances

Black and White photograph of woman at surface of pool reaching arm out in performative manner, young girl wearing goggles swims in the background.

Photo: Pete Millson ©Pete Millson

The groundbreaking underwater live events were held on the 29th August and 1st September 2012 at Osprey Leisure Centre, Portland, Dorset.The first performance was kindly sponsored by the b-side festival. The events evolved into a dynamic performance, with Sue being carried in her wheelchair to the side of the pool, then literally throwing herself into the water, which evoked gasps of disbeleif from the poolside audience. A large poolside screen showed a specially made film as precursor to the performance which was then broadcast from the underwater camera onto the screen via a live link.Novices were taught how to dive by local diving instructors just before the performance so that they could observe as an underwater audience. They were joined in the pool by experienced divers, including some disabled divers.The whole poolside area was decorated with red flags & curtains & after the performances some of the divers spontaneously took the flags into the pool to wave gently in a fitting & dramatic end to the events.

Before the events Osprey became the focus for the 'Creating the Spectacle!' project, as we practised and developed our underwater skills at the pool. The Osprey staff were key in helping and giving their input. As a Community hub Osprey gave local people an opportunity to engage with the project and its evolution. Locals, businesses, and volunteers where actively involved throughout the project development. Audiences, participants & volunteers were inspired by the performances and engaged with the sense of freedom and grace of the underwater wheelchair, seeing it as a positive asset rather than a problem. Locals were fascinated by the ideas which provoked discussion and innovation. The diving community was particularly helpful. The sense of community was very strong and with so many participants and volunteers taking part, and the world press being in attendance at the performances, this was a very positive thing for Portland. Many locals where actively engaged through out the entire project, giving them a sense of ownership and pride.

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

'Creating the Spectacle!' - poolside. / 30 August 2012
On a blue underwater water background, swirling lines of hair float as a background to the words 'Underwater', formed from images of bubbles, and 'ConText' formed from sticks and stones.

How does it make you feel?

The wheelless man with the microphone nods to his cameraman and leans towards me. I hesitate.

The freedom... he prompts. And I eventually respond.

 What I really want to do is commandeer the microphone and turn the tables. You see I already know about the freedom. Being wheelborne is my freedom.

'Creating the Spectacle,' is not to be confined to inspiring the wheelborne, it is very much aimed at changing the attitudes of the wheelless.

It is not about turning the spotlight on 'the brave and inspirational disabled', although having such a splendid role model does me no harm at all.

You are missing the point, I want to shout, the point is how does it make you feel?

And if your gut reaction is to descend on the wheelless because you do not see yourself or other wheelless as 'concerned parties' then you really are missing the point.

And if you do not allow yourself to change, to respond enlightened, then you are denying a great deal of what 'Creating the 'Spectacle!' is about. You are throwing away all that fantastic inspiration, dismissing all that courage and bravery, wasting all that effort and determination.

I am infuriated when you praise me for doing the easy and trivial things on my wheelborne adventure; but your failure to engage with real courage, stunning determination and this brilliantly creative artwork is more than insulting.

And the freedom? 'Creating the Spectacle!' doesn't just allow me to dream, it allows you to dream with me; to open the cage of your imagination and set me free.

oh! I arrive my wheels, I arrive.

I come with the heartbeat, bringing life.

Bringing life, you come with the motion.

We have the energy for laughter.

I arrive my wheels, I arrive

with a slow humiliation.

The elegance I crave, a figment

of my hot imagination

until I rest in your embrace.

until we are one. and we glide.


oh! I arrive my wheels, I arrive

and we are reborn in the morning.

I ease from the upright agony of fire

into your enveloping embrace.

I arrive my wheels, I arrive

with a keen anticipation

to be rescued from the primitive

to our shared configuration.

oh my wheels, I am handicapped

until we are one. And we glide.