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Disability arts post # 3

May 2, 2013

I am taking a free online writing course from http://www.coursera.org

Below is my second paper for that course. It uses a photograph I shared in a post in September 2012. It seemed like a good way to re-activate this blog.

A definition of disability arts can be as elusive as is a definition of expertise. Nonetheless, this paper will present a photograph that I believe represents expertise in disability art. Ware (2008) describes the creative process in disability arts as interrupting “conventional interpretations about disability” (p. 573). Colvin (2006) includes the concept of “mental models (…) pictures of how the elements fit together and influence one another” in his discussion of expertise (p. 3). The image, I describe below demonstrates the artist’s mental model or vision; it also challenges viewers’ possible perspectives of disability.
The setting of the photograph on the following page is underwater. The blue background, the bubbles floating upwards from the woman’s breathing device, and the fish swimming in and around the coral provide this information. When I first saw this photograph in September 2012, I almost gasped and then said “Ohhh!!”. The light shining on the coral and on the woman’s arms that are held up and away from her body in what looks like joyous freedom contributes to the stunning beauty of this image. The silvery colour of some of the fish looks lovely against the blue of the water. The wheels of the woman’s wheelchair are the same silvery colour.
If you were reading this description without having the photograph available to view, the word wheelchair may have surprised you. Sue Austin, a British performance artist, is the woman in the image using a modified wheelchair to scuba dive. A scuba tank is attached to the backrest of the wheelchair. The seat belt is positioned a little differently than one used on a standard wheelchair. The belt goes around Austin’s waist, the backrest of the wheelchair and the scuba tank rather than across her hips. There appears to be a Plexiglas platform under the wheelchair foot rests that reaches around to both wheels in the shape of a denture plate. I have since learned that the apparent platform is really two acrylic hydroplane fins (Kinross, 2012). The wheelchair and the scuba diving gear are combined in this photograph. Generally, these pieces of equipment evoke opposite feelings and thoughts in people (Austin, 2013). The word wheelchair often appears with the word confined. Scuba diving is often described as exciting, adventurous and expansive (Kinross, 2012). The juxtaposition of these two types of equipment is significant.

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