We recently caught up with Fremantle Arts Centre Artist in Residence Bruno Booth. He is currently in Sydney for the opening of his exhibition Push it, push it (real good). We chatted about his practice, what’s he’s been working on and what he’s up to next.

Tell us about your practice/career so far.

I’m an emerging artist with a physical disability based in Fremantle, WA. I work across the mediums of painting, social engagement, sculpture, video, and installation. My practice is driven by a desire to communicate an idea/feeling with the audience. I think that having a strong concept about what I’m trying to say with my work helps to galvanise me in its production. I often start by drawing simple sketches which I use as a blueprint to produce more detailed, digital models before deciding on materiality.

I undertook a residency at PICA in late 2017 where I developed ideas for projects that position disability as something to be celebrated rather than denigrated. During this residency I discovered a new-found desire to produce large scale, participatory installations.

In 2018 I held a solo exhibition, Pull cord for assistance, at Smart Casual (Fremantle, WA) where I turned the gallery into an oversized disabled toilet constructed from paper mache. The work was intended to highlight the propensity of high-jacking spaces intended to be used by disabled people and was funded by a DLGSC Arts Grant.

In March and April 2019 I produced a large, participatory installation Hostile Infrastructure at Testing Grounds in Southbank, Victoria. For this work, participants used a manual wheelchair to travel down a long, neon-lit corridor that narrowed imperceptibly. The walls and ceiling closed in until the realisation dawned that their wheelchair wouldn’t fit through the exit without damaging the work itself. This project was challenging for me, not only was it the first time that I had made an outdoor, participatory installation, I was also stretching myself by working collaboratively with other professionals to realise the work. I learnt that I am capable of producing high-quality, thoughtful and engaging experiences that draw an audience in whilst simultaneously challenging them to consider the built environment in a new light. This work was funded by the City Of Melbourne Arts Grants program.

Bruno Booth, Hostile Infrastructure

Bruno Booth, Hostile Infrastructure

What have you been working on while you’ve been at FAC?

Mainly trying to organise my workspace, you know. Moving tables around, picking things up, putting them down, picking them up one more time. I’ve also written a few proposals and submitted some grant apps. I spent a nice day in the carpark creating some giant rubbings of asphalt on wallpaper, just to mix things up a bit.

I’ve also made a work for a group show Interview at Nyisztor Studios curated by Carla Adams. The show was expanded versions of self-portraits by emerging WA artists. My work was some pieces of asphalt with handmade banana skins draped across them.

Finally, I’m making a painting for the Joondalup prize in mid-October. It’s a shaped canvas work and I see it is a nice bridge between my abstract painting practice and my newer work which is more about my experiences as a wheelchair user.

You have an exhibition – Push it, push it (real good) opening Wed 2 Oct at First Draft Sydney. Can you tell us a bit about the project?

Push it, push it (real good) explores the experience of navigating a wheelchair across difficult terrain. Utilising video, painting, and installation, the project foregrounds the exaggerated physicality and repetition of movement required to master assistive equipment. Using a wheelchair is an endurance sport. It can be painful, exhausting and strangely beautiful. Shopping trips are obstacle courses, crowded bars are an exercise in patience, kerbs are mountains and puddles inland seas. Rocky paths should be conquered, the alternative is a pedestrian life mediated by synthetic surfaces and sanitised experiences.

Repetition of motion (and its associated benefits and pitfalls) is something that wheelchair users know intimately. On opening night I’m going to invite visitors to help me create a sculpture of an ISA (International Symbol Of Access) on the gallery floor. This performance/dialogue will serve as an entry point for the work and allow people to ask questions about my practice and my experience of disability in an informal setting.

After your residency wraps up, what exhibitions/residencies have you got in the pipeline?

I’m hoping the residency never ends, to be honest! I really like FAC, everyone is super nice and there’s a coffee plunger in the kitchen. I was lucky enough, scratch that, worked really hard and was selected for Next Wave festival in 2020. It’s a biennale of emerging and experimental art that happens all across Melbourne. I can’t tell you much about the work as it’s super-secret, but I can tell you it will be big, fun and participatory.

I’m also working on a project with PICA that’s based around my NextWave work that will be presented as part of their 2021 exhibition period. I have a few other things in the pipeline but these are even more secret than my Next Wave work so if I told you I’d get in trouble. My motto is “self-taught, never caught” and I’d like to keep it that way.

Find out more about Bruno Booth here.