August 28, 2012 2:28 pm
A special self-propelled underwater wheelchair designed with help from dive experts and academics will debut this week in London as artist Sue Austin performs submerged swimming pool acrobatics on the buoyant contraption.
Austin has been wheelchair-bound since 1996 and acknowledges that this has impacted both her life and her art. She writes on her website:
My studio practice has, for sometime, centred around finding ways to understand and represent my embodied experience as a wheelchair user, opening up profound issues about methods of self-representation and the power of self-narration in challenging the nexus of power and control that created the ‘disabled’ as other.
The underwater wheelchair work, dubbed “Finding Freedom,” is part of her larger Freewheeling project.
To move through oceanic depths, the wheelchair uses a propeller and fins positioned at the back of Austin’s legs that allow her to steer via an acrylic strip attached to her feet. According to SmartPlanet, the design originally proved challenging since most propeller models rely on hand movements, but Austin lacks the strength to maneuver them properly. Instead, the team worked to make her wheelchair more buoyant by modifying the heel plates into fins and tweaking the seat to cope better with underwater pressure.
Here, you can discover “a gentle, dream like exploration of an exotic underwater” alongside Austin and her underwater wheelchair:
More from Smithsonian.com:
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.