When it comes to diving into the waters of self expression, British artist Sue Austin is as freewheeling as they come. As the 2012 Paralympics kick off this week in London, Austin has been making waves with a series of performances and film screenings of "Creating the Spectacle," a theatrical video of Austin as she navigates the deep in her underwater wheelchair.
According to the project's website, the work's "unexpected juxtapositions" aim "to excite and inspire by creating images that transform preconceptions."
Austin, who's been in a wheelchair since 1996, told the BBC that she first had the idea for the project after learning to scuba dive in 2005.
"When we started talking to people about it, engineers were saying it
wouldn't work, the wheelchair would go into a spin, it was not designed
to go through water — but I was sure it would," she said.
Austin's wheelchair is powered by two dive propulsion thrusters under her seat. To steer, Austin slips her feet into an acrylic, U-shaped fin reminiscent of stingray wings. She also uses floatation devices for buoyancy.
Austin modified a standard-issue wheelchair from Britain's National Health Service (NHS) because it "is one of the most ubiquitous images of disability" and she wants this project to leave "a legacy of attitudinal change" in regards to the public perception of disability.
The wheelchair has patents pending and is already making a splash outside of the art world.
"We've had Professional Association of Diving Instructors course directors and very experienced divers saying they would pay to
hire it," Austin said.
"The Oceanography department at the University of Plymouth,
where I did a BA in performing art, said it
would make their courses accessible to students with disabilities."
Visit Creating the Spectacle's website to learn more about the project, film and live performances. In the meantime, grab your scuba gear and take an enchanting trip under the sea with Austin in the following video.
Credit: Norman Lomax