'Testing the Water!'
'Creating the Spectacle!': from R&D stage to centre stage
In 2010, Freewheeling was successful in securing a research and development grant for Testing the Water from Arts Council England’s Impact programme, a fund specifically designed to support the development of professional disabled artists working in the South West.
Freewheeling, led by Sue Austin, its creative director, is an emerging artist-led initiative. It focuses on providing a hub around which to foster integrated arts projects with the intention that this will allow ideas and artistic concepts to develop. At the same time, there is empahsis on maintaining a connection with academic research where this intends to reposition Disability Arts and the status of disabled artists within the mainstream cultural sector.
Testing the Water led on to the preparation for an ambitious application for an Unlimited Commission as part of the Cultural Olympiad. From this, 'Creating the Spectacle!' emerged.
The development phase began with discussions with academic staff at the University of Plymouth and an approach from the Chair of the B-side Multimedia Arts Festival who said they would like to programme the work as part of their 2012 festival which was planned to run alongside the Paralympic sailing events in Weymouth and Portland.
The focus of the Unlimited bid was to create a spectacular performance of a self-propelled underwater NHS wheelchair that leaves traces of its freedom as it sweeps through water with its human occupant. The aim of this work is to use dramatic and unexpected juxtapositions to attach new and powerful narratives to the objecthood of the wheelchair and to open up a debate around societal attitudes to disability through the presentation of empowered and empowering images.
Through the process of exploring ideas, then taking on the technical challenges, Feewheeling used the funding it received during these phases to make this vision a reality.