When Sue Austin lost her mobility, she trained as a diver. This inspired her to make a film about scuba diving in a wheelchair. Sue describes her experience as; "more like flying than diving and brings about the most amazing sense of freedom".
Sue started using a wheelchair in 1996 following an extended illness which affected her mobility. Although her electric wheelchair gave her a terrific sense of freedom, she found that people's attitude to her changed due to to the negative preconceptions many people attach to the chair.
Sue first had the idea for an underwater wheelchair when she trained as a disabled diver in 2005, using fin gloves. Scuba equipment extended her range of activity just like her wheelchair. But what would happen if she put the two together?
Sue began work on her idea, an artwork called, "Creating The Spectacle!" in 2010 thanks to funding received from the Arts Council England. The work aims to use the juxtaposition between a standard NHS wheelchair in an underwater environment to create positive and empowering images and challenge preconceptions.
The film was shot at various sites around Sharm-el-Sheikh with the help of a local dive club. Sue was wearing a summer dress to dive in and as the Red Sea waters are surprisingly cold, there was only a maximum of 45 minutes underwater time available for filming. Consequently, detailed planning was required in order to capture several different types of footage in such a short timeframe.
Sue's wheelchair is fitted with motors which give an amazing range of movement. Her body is completely supported and she can perform acrobatic and balletic manoeuvres. Each performance is improvised as Sue uses her intuition to feel for the most expressive and graceful shapes that come to her in that moment
Although the experiment is undoubtedly challenging, it surely creates the most wonderful, mind-expanding experiences. Last year Sue became one of 29 artists commissioned to create an artwork for the Unlimited Festival as part of the Cultural Olympiad. Sue's film culminated in a panoramic film installation in the Royal Festival Hall in London and she is continuing to develop her work, showing it internationally and giving talks at various events including TEDxWomen in Washington DC, USA.
Sue's underwater wheelchair adventures can be viewed on YouTube and through her Freewheeling Facebook page.