Sue Austin


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© Copyright Sue Austin 2010



Freewheeling - Traces from a wheelchair

Holton Lee, 2009


Sue wth work in Faith House

Sue photographed by Richard Jeffery during the residency at Holton Lee, March 2009

I have been using my artistic practice to research ways in which I might open up a narrative based around the sense of agency, freedom and expansion engendered by the experience of using my ‘power’chair. Other dynamics which became apparent within the work were issues about support/constriction, fragmentation/unity, presence/absence, the power of the empty chair and the prosthetic extension of the body. I have also been interested in the concept of liminality, the use of art for catharsis, subjectivism and expression of self and ideas explored by Juan Munoz around ‘otherness’ – where themes of alienation dominate.

Sue contemplating work at Holton Lee

Sue selecting work for the exhibition at Holton Lee (photo: Richard Jeffery)

Having initially explored print and sculpture, work then led to a move towards time based digital media, video projections, performance, installation and an exploration of the mark making possibilities of my power wheelchair produced by play. The particular aim here was to find a material, indexical expression of the above mentioned narrative of agency, freedom and fun. It is this theme which I have chosen to focus on while at Holton Lee. This exhibition is part of an ongoing body of work which first of all set out to examine whether a wheelchair could be said to become part of one’s body consciousness and has now developed into a consideration of narrative theory and how identity is created. By exploring the subjective narratives created by my use of the wheelchair and the traces it leaves, I hope to reconfigure the preconceptions of the viewer.

Freewheeling exhibition in Faith House

Exhibition in Faith House, Holton Lee, 2009 (photo: Trish Wheatley)

By exploring these traces, the wheelchair becomes a portal pushing one to develop a more integrated and deeply rooted identity that does not rely on received wisdoms. It facilitates a ‘re-making’ of one’s self-concept through the artistic and research process. It can also lead to a revaluing of the wheelchair. The process of reflecting on the marks it leaves enables people to see and value their place/materiality in the world and opens up a discourse with the viewer to raise awareness of how we move within it. For example by reflecting on the nature of tracks, which are normally purposeful and directional, we see here they become playful – an activity in and of itself, without purpose.

Sue making tracks at Holton Lee

Sue making tracks at Holton Lee (photo: Richard Jeffery)

Having brought the wheelchair mark-making techniques with me, this residency and the resulting exhibition has become a record of the ways I have used these processes to intervene in and respond to the landscape, the people and the architecture that I have found here.
These interventions have been influenced by supporting theoretical investigations which resulted in an ability to place my experience within a rich conceptual framework and has given a greater clarity to my studio/field explorations.

Freewheeling exhibition

Exhibition in Faith House, Holton Lee, 2009 (photo: Trish Wheatley)

Click to downloadClick here to download a copy of the exhibition catalogue (2.5mb)

click to view slideshowClick here to view a slideshow of images from the residency and exhibition

The exhibition catalogue was designed to be printed A3 and folded along the guildelines in the style of a map.