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Sue Austin makes a splash in Weymouth / 5 August 2011

I work part-time for DAO three days per week. The other two working days are occupied with Freewheeling, the artist-led initiative that Sue Austin and I have developed over the last year. Freewheeling’s current project is an ambitious one to say the least! We are bringing Sue’s concept of a self-propelled underwater wheelchair alive through a series of filmed and live performances for the Cultural Olympiad in Weymouth. 

Thanks to Arts Council South West’s innovative yearlong Impact fund for disabled artists we were able to undertake a research and development project called ‘Testing the Water!’. An intense period of practical and administrative work has been undertaken and recently, on 22 July, we were able to see some of the rewards from our work. With thanks to ICCI at the University of Plymouth we were able to film with their 360 degree underwater camera rig to create a ‘trailer’ for the main project which is planned to take place during the Olympic and Paralympic period at Weymouth next year. 

I drove along Weymouth Esplanade and saw the white temporary dome construction in an impressive prime location on the beach. On entering the arena, it took a while for my eyes to adjust after the bright sunshine outside. I had come for an event designed to showcase the different possibilities of the 360 format to interested individuals and representatives of organisations with a view to attracting more content for next year. 

We waited in anticipation for our film, slightly nervous because this, as for all the guests in the room, was the first time we had seen it screened in the format it was designed for. Lining up five screens together on one flat monitor simply doesn’t prepare you for the impact of being totally immersed in the moving image. 

Our wait over, the film screened, the sound of the bubbles and the whirr of the motor, immediately familiar to me as someone who’d been involved from the beginning. It worked. We were searching around, everyone knew they were about to see an underwater wheelchair, looking for it, and then seeing it moving gracefully around us enhanced by the spotlights held by the other divers in the water. 

It was another magical moment in this intense, hard working, fun and often utterly absurd project. It was on a par with the first time we got in the pool to test the wheelchair, the times when people have offered support way above and beyond we could ever expect, the first time Sue pulled a ‘loop-the-loop’ in the ‘chair, the time when Sue rolled into the sea off a slipway outside the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy and when we took a boat out to White Nothe on the famous Dorset coastline to test the wheelchair in deeper water.

All over in a fleeting moment, I wanted to see it again and again to understand the footage. ICCI told us they will be buying a mini version of the dome for testing at the University of Plymouth. “Perfect” I thought as we need that time to make this the spectacular event we are promising. That said, the trailer did its job and we’ve now got even more people interested and following the story of Sue, the project team and the underwater wheelchair. 

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Keywords: 2012 olympics,disability art,film,paralympics,visual art,wheelchair users



6 August 2011

Am very, very envious! There was enough 'wow' while watching on a lap top. Must have been amazing.