Features/What to SEE/Multi-arts/Visual Art

What to SEE: Dead Ends and Detours

16 March 2023

This interactive artwork in the Perth Cultural Centre contains elements of painting, drawing, sculpture, video and music. It just needs a passer-by who is willing to be confused, challenged and surprised to fully activate it.

Bruno Booth is a prolific and self-described “disloyal” local artist who is building a strong profile across a range of disciplines, from music to painting and installation.

He also has a disability and uses a wheelchair.

His new work, Dead Ends and Detours, is an outdoor installation that gives visitors a brief experience of the challenges of moving through the world in a wheelchair. The work in the Perth Cultural Centre invites people to negotiate an obstacle course in a race against the clock.

Ahead of the installation, which opens Friday 17 March, Booth spoke to Seesaw’s Nina Levy.

Nina Levy: Your work is diverse. How do you like to describe it?

Bruno Booth: I’m a generalist. I’m disloyal to many different mediums and styles. I’m more interested in challenging myself and trying new things than developing a specific proficiency. My experience of being disabled runs through most of the things I make but the forms are always changing.

NL: You’re based in Walyalup/Fremantle. Did you grow up in this area? Tell me a bit about your childhood – what role did the arts play?

BB: I actually grew up in Lancashire in England and moved to Walyalup in 2007. Growing up I wasn’t really exposed to contemporary art. I lived in a little village and the closest town was pretty poor, so no big galleries or anything like that. There was a really good music scene though and I played in a number of bands and got heavily involved in the punk and drum and bass communities.

NL: Before completing an Advanced Diploma of Graphic Design, you completed a BSc in Ecology and Environmental Science. What happened that saw you move from science to arts?

BB: I worked as a hydrogeologist for a consultancy when I first moved to Australia. To be honest I’d studied science because I was told at school that I could never make a living as an artist.

I soon realised that consultancy work wasn’t for me. It felt like all I was doing was enabling mining companies to do their worst which was the opposite of why I studied environmental science in the first place.

I quit and then started playing music again, gigging around Boorloo/Perth until 2011 when I broke my hand the day before I was meant to start recording our first album. That was a blessing in disguise because although I could no longer play face-melting solos on guitar it did allow me to take some time to consider exactly what the fuck I was doing with my life.

So I went to TAFE and studied graphic design which then led me to the arts because I realised I didn’t enjoy using my creativity to make other people money.

Dead Ends. Man in a wheelchair. He is wearing a yellow crash helmet and yellow sleeveless top which exposes tattoos on his upper arms
Bruno Booth’s work aims to challenge and surprise. Photo: Duncan Wright

NL: Your new work Dead Ends and Detours is not the first you’ve made which invites the audience to use a wheelchair. What gave you the idea of placing the viewer in a wheelchair and making them an active participant in your work?

BB: I’m not sure where the idea first came from, growing up my friends would always want to have a go in my chair and try to pop wheelies and the like. I guess that image stuck with me and then I spewed it back out as an installation.

NL: And what can visitors to the installation expect?

BB: I think they can expect to be a little confused, maybe a bit challenged physically and ultimately surprised at the difficulty involved in using a chair on rough terrain.

NL: What are the challenges and rewards of making a participatory work, as opposed to a more traditional, passive work?

BB: I think interactive work is way more accessible and interesting to the public – you know the vast majority of people who don’t have art history degrees. For me it also incorporates all those traditional modes of artistic expression. The installation work I make has elements of painting, drawing, sculpture, video and music. It just so happens that it also needs a participant to fully activate it.

NL: What insights do you hope visitors to your show might gain about the experience of wheelchair users?

BB: I don’t know if my work offers any insights really. I’m just one person trying to make things that I think haven’t been made before or would be interesting for people to engage with. People will inevitably draw their own conclusions about what the work means but I don’t think it’s my job to explain why I do what I do.

What I’m really interested in is representation. I want young disabled people in out of the way places to see or hear about my work and get inspired to pursue their own artistic goals. I would have liked to have seen that when I was growing up.

NL: Finally, what’s next for you?

BB: I’ve got a bit on. I’m in two shows right now – Confusion Spell at Sweet Pea’s sister gallery at Lawson Flats where I’m showing some new drawing/collages and a concept hip-hop album, and Exquisite Bodies, which is a large new wall work and a series of participatory soft sculptures at AGWA that runs until December.

After that I have a group show as part of Dark Mofo in Tasmania in June, and I’m preparing work for touring a show called Feline good, how about Bodyshots for Art on The Move. I also have a few residencies and a solo show at The Junction in Port Hedland in February next year. There’s also a couple of international shows in the works but, you know, embargoes and so on.

Bruno Booth’s installation Dead Ends and Detours, presented by Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, runs this weekend, 17-19 March 2023, in the Perth Cultural Centre amphitheatre.

Pictured top: Bruno Booth offers willing participants a glimpse of the challenges of life using a wheelchair. Photo by Keelan O’Hehir

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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