Some artists can cause us reframe our view of the world. Both through the art itself, the processes used to create work and the ways in which these ripple out into the world, in some contexts the experience of disability can serve to help people see what is really there. Jo Verrent explores….
5 September 2011
Another of her preoccupations is with the concept of presences and absences – and again within a body of work called Traces from a wheelchair she uses her chair to great effect, making patterns with paint and the wheels, creating marks on a variety of surfaces to show the smoothness, the fluidity, the play that her chair affords her. In the end pieces, we don’t see the chair, only the marks that it has made and for Sue this mirrors the duality she experiences as a disabled person – being both highly visible and invisible at the same time.
The impact Susan Austin’s work has on audiences and collaborators is profound – people observe, understand, and join in. Her latest work has gained support and involvement from many quarters – including arts festivals, nature reserves, equipment manufacturers, engineers, diving equipment suppliers and others. She is the recent recipient of an Unlimited Commission from London 2012 to create a spectacular performance of a self propelled underwater NHS wheelchair in the Fleet Lagoon; a wheelchair that leaves ‘traces’ of its freedom as it sweeps through water with its human occupant in a site specific performance.
Susan is able to draw people to ideas – she expresses her process as follows:
“I am well versed in being able to 'think outside the box' and generate innovative solutions… generating new ideas which 'create a spark' of inspiration…This process of igniting others enables those others to develop a shared sense of ownership of those ideas. They then 'stoke the fire' which leads to that one 'torch' lighting another and then another 'torch' until they in turn then light many torches… Suddenly, and often surprisingly, that initial spark spreads like wild fire.” 
And again, it is her personal experience of disability that has shaped this process that acts positively to create a catalyst for others – giving them both the space and the framework in which to respond. For Susan, the experience of disability simply isn’t negative. She has come to realise:
“that having limited mental and physical energy to act in the world needn't exclude one from meaningful leadership roles; and that, in fact, the experience gained through 'difference' can be a very positive asset”.