Sue Austin


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© Copyright Sue Austin 2010





Sue with Paint Wheelchair

Sue Austin is a multimedia, performance and installation artist. Over an extended period of time her practice has operated as a vehicle to open up a thinking space around the materiality of the wheelchair. This is being used as a metaphor to raise questions about the value of diversity to society through raising the profile of ‘difference’.


Image: Sue with Paint Wheelchair, 2009

Rather than being didactic, however, a primary aim will be to create portals or multiple entrances into the resulting artwork (eg. through live art, associated online and multi-platform presentation, etc) so that it can find a way to ask questions but at the same time leave space for the audience to generate their own meanings. She aims to find dramatic and powerful ways to re-position disability and Disability Arts as the ‘Hidden Secret’. She argues that this ‘secret’, if explored, valued and then shared, can act to heal the divisions created in the social psyche by cultural dichotomies that define the ‘disabled’ as ‘other’.

Through the performative presentation of a diverse embodiment, the main focus for this work is about reconfiguring preconceptions through the use of dramatic and unexpected juxtapositions that act to surprise, open up thinking and then, through that reordering of associations, to create empowered and empowering narratives. This manifests in an artistic practice that makes use of “surreal juxtapositions and quirky re-presentations of disability equipment to facilitate new ways of seeing, being and knowing”


Currently attending MA Fine Art,
commenced in September 2009, part-time, University of Plymouth.

BA Hons. Fine Art.  Classification: First Class,
University of Plymouth, 2003 - 2009
Thesis: Self-Narration as a means of restoring the alienated body:  An Investigation into the power of Discourses on Disability and Ontological Theories to reposition the Embodiment and Art-Practice of the Disabled Artist.

Fine Art Access Course, North Devon College, Barnstaple, 2000 - 2003.

Art Portfolio Course, North Devon College, Barnstaple, 1999 - 2000.

Strengths Assessment Diploma, Mental Health, Research and Development in Psychiatry, June 1992 - 1994.

BSc Hons. Psychology, University College of Swansea, University of Wales, 1984 - 1987.
Dissertation: Investigating the therapeutic benefit of introducing professional artists into mental health day care settings in Carmarthenshire, Wales.



Freewheeling - Founder & Artistic Director. Freewheeling is an emerging disability led initiative focused on providing a ‘hub’ around which to foster integrated arts projects, allowing ideas and artistic concepts to develop while maintaining an emphasis on promoting academic research that aims to reposition Disability Arts and the status of disabled artists within the mainstream cultural sector. March 2009 - present

Testing the Water - Current project, programmed for B-Side Multimedia Arts Festival as part of the Cultural Olympiad events at Weymouth and Portland. R&D funded by the Arts Council's Impact fund. See Current Practice for more information. August 2010 - present

New Voices Critical Writing Skills Bursary - approached to Blog for Disability Arts Online (DAO) as part of New Voices programme. This is because Colin Hambrook (editor) would like to distrubute my existing theoretical writing, around the concept of repositioning Disability Arts as the 'Hidden Secret', to leading disability studies academics. The aim of this is to instigate a dialogue around the 'Creative Case for Diversity'. DAO is the world's leading online journal for arts & culture in a disability context. January 2011 - present

Artist/Documentor for La Folia (Formerly Sarum Orchestra) 4 year project to produce “The Ring Cycle” in collaboration with Exeter House School, July 2010 - ongoing

Member of Selection Panel for Impact Fund, Arts Council England, June 2010 - ongoing

Documentary Artist/Collaborator for Testing the Edges Partnership Action Research Project.  Commissioned to document and produce a piece of film work in response to the Testing the Edges Project and resulting workshop event which is exploring the commissioning of Disability Art by mainstream settings, Salisbury, Sept 2009 - ongoing
Artglass Originals, Hand Painted Glass Craft Business (using art to assist me to ‘build back out into life’ following an acquired disability, working on a therapeutic basis), October 1999 -  ongoing.

Artist Collaborator, Architecture Inside-Out, Charrette at the Lighthouse, Woking, a collaboration with architects, 22 Jun 2008.

User Representative, Direct Payments Service User Steering Group: August 2007 – March 2008.

Case Manager, Specialist Long Term Mental Health Team, Leicestershire Social Services June 1992 - Jan 1997 (Retired on Ill Health Grounds following acquired disability due to chronic health condition which led to loss of mobility and the need to use a wheelchair in March 1996).

Development Support Worker, Community Accommodation Project (Mental Health), Leicestershire Social Services, Leicester, September 1989- June 1992.

Residential Social Worker, Hayes Park, Leicester, March 1988- September 1989



Judge’s Vote, Second Holton Lee Disability Arts Open Competitive Exhibition, for ‘Underwater Wheelchair’ January 2008. (Please see image that won this prize at top of this CV). 

Natalie Sitar Award for Outstanding Achievement, Awarded by Plymouth University Fine Art Department following presentation of “Freewheeling: An Absent Presence or a Present Absence?’ for Degree Show and ‘Freewheeling: Absent and Present’ public art installation through the centre of Plymouth, June 2009.



Art Portfolios, Barnstaple Library, 2 – 9 Jun 2000.

North Devon College Arts Exhibition, Barnstaple, 14 - 28 Jun 2003.

Artist’s Open Studio, sculpture and multimedia installation, Exeter, 6 Jun 2006.

Artist’s Open Studio, multimedia installation, Exeter, 26 Sep 2006.

‘Exposing the Semiotics of the Wheelchair’, Artist’s Open Studio, Exeter, 25 Jun 2007.

Second Holton Lee Disability Arts Competitive Exhibition, 19 Jan – 8 Mar 2008.

Tate Modern - Architecture Inside Out - a collaborative intervention/performance in the Turbine Hall, Easter 2008.

Roland Levinsky Atrium Gallery and Artists Studios, Multi-space Installation, University of Plymouth, ‘Self Narration – a Writerly Text’, 22 Jan 2009.

Group exhibition, Holton Lee Disability Arts Open 2009 17 Jan – 8 Mar 2009.

‘Freewheeling – Traces from a Wheelchair’ Exhibition, Faith House, Holton Lee 24 Mar – 1 May 2009.

‘Freewheeling: Present and Absent’, Plymouth, Temporary public art installation through Plymouth City Centre, 7 Jun 2009 – 5 August 2009. 

University of Plymouth, Degree Show, Freewheeling: An Absent Presence or a Present Absence?’ 19 – 26th June 2009.

Plymouth BBC Big Screen, exhibition of five films exploring the freedoms of the wheelchair, Jul – Aug 2009.

Swan Song, Group Exhibition, Empire Gallery,, London, 6 Aug – 17 Aug 2009.  Interviewed by Sue Perkins for arts programme on BBC 2.

Artist’s Open Studio,  ‘Testing the Edges: All the Questions and All the Answers?’ 26th July 2010.

'Testing the Water!', Exhibition and Live dialogue with Curator Edith Doove, Gallery Space, Scott Building, University of Plymouth, 29th March to 2nd April 2011.


Residencies, Workshops and Talks:

Tate Modern, Presentation of outcomes from Architecture Inside-Out collaborations between disabled artists and architects, 20 October 2008.

Artist’s talk, Plymouth University, Devon, 25th October 2008.

Artists talk, North Devon College, Barnstaple, Devon, 6 January 2009.

International workshop: AHO+BARTLETT= i-DAT, A trans-disciplinary research workshop on Arch-OS, Plymouth University,  25th - 27th February 2009.

Experimental Drawing workshop, The Bakehouse, Royal William Yard, Plymouth, 10 February 2009.

Residency at Holton Lee, Poole, Dorset, 13 – 23 March 2009.

Workshop with residents at The Barn, Holton Lee, Poole, Dorset: Painting with the Wheelchair and Encouraging Audience Participation, 21st March 2009.

Who Recuperating Who?  Artists and Political Action, Arnolfini, Bristol,  Nov 2009.

Artist’s Talk, Plymouth University, Devon, 15th December 2009.

'Claiming the Audience as part of one's Artwork', Live Dialogue with Edith Doove, Curator, The Gallery, Scott Building, University of Plymouth, 29th March 2011.

Sync Intensives, Cultural Leadership programme, 2010.

Member of LUAN, LinkUpArtists' Network, Arts Council funded initiative for career disabled artists based in the South West.


Images of Work appeared in numerous publications to publicise 2nd and 3rd Holton Lee Arts Opens in Jan/Feb 2008 then 2009 (eg Muse, an-artist’s magazine, Evolver, etc.)
Exhibition Catalogue, Holton Lee, March 2009
Exhibition Catalogue, Empire Gallery, August 2009
Work has appeared on numerous websites both in March 2009 and June 2009 following debate generated by installation of wheelchair traces through the centre of Plymouth in June 2009:
Interview for regional BBC1 news programme
Interview for regional BBC radio programme
Interviews for Plymouth Herald.
Work from Swan Song group exhibition appeared in “The Art on Your Walls’ presented by Sue Perkins, BBC2, November 2009
Brochure and 21 short films for ‘Testing the Edges Action Research Project’: The ‘Disabled’ Gaze?: A series of short films by Sue Austin

Recent Relevant Social Interests:

Sue studying Donald Rodney's wheelchair at Niet Normaal in Amsterdam, February 2010Treasurer, Network Housing Association, Supported accommodation (budget, £150.000) 1990-1996

Steering Group Member, Art Bus project:  2000 – 2002.

Art on Prescription Steering Group:  2002 – present.

Advocacy Steering Group, Developing Advocacy for Devon: Nov 2007 – present.


Image: Sue studying Donald Rodney's wheelchair Niet Normaal in Amsterdam, February 2010

Service User Representative for Living Options Devon, campaigning on behalf of people with sensory and physical Disabilities: 2004 – present.

Service User Representative on North Devon NHS Local Implementation Group for Physical Disabilities: Oct 2005 – Mar 2007.

PADI Open Water Diver Certification, Camel Dive Club, Egypt, July 2005.
PADI Adventures In Diving Certification, Camel Dive Club, Egypt, July 2005.
PADI Nitrox Certification, Camel Dive Club, Egypt, July 2005.
PADI Advanced Open Water Diver Certification, Panorama Sharm, Oonas Dive Club November 2005.
PADI Dry Suit Training, April 2008.
Member of  Scuba Trust - a Disabled Diving Association.