I’m in a wheelchair, wheeling myself down a narrow corridor. The ceiling is lined with flickering LEDs, barely illuminating the deep purple walls. The corridor is getting narrower. I move toward the light at the end. I’ve never used a wheelchair before, and the walls are now so close that my knuckles are getting grazed.
At the end of the passage I’m met by Bruno Booth, the artist behind this installation, who has bandaids at the ready. My knuckles are fine, but yours might not be.
“I’m okay with that,” Booth jokes. “I’ve got public liability insurance.”
Booth designed Hostile Infrastructure using similar principles as the distorted optical illusion that is the Ames Room, but with a personal bent.
Born with congenital malformation of the lower limbs, Booth has spent most of his life in a wheelchair. His experience of space is different to most people’s. He’s used to misjudging a gap and grazing his knuckles or knocking something over.
“I go places, I judge the space, and I think, ‘This’ll be fine, there’s a step there, but this looks surmountable’,” says Booth. “But then I get there, and suddenly it isn’t.”
Booth’s background is in minimalist painting, in which he’s also played with perspective tricks. Last year, he turned a gallery space in Fremantle into a distorted, oversized accessible toilet, full of hazards and strewn with toilet paper. That installation was called Pull Cord For Assistance. Hostile Infrastructure builds on both his experience manipulating perspective, and sculpture, with an eye-opening experiential element.
Booth tells me about going to grand galleries and museums in Eastern Europe and being forced to use the service elevator at the back, dodging mops and buckets in the narrow corridors.
The site of this work, Southbank’s Testing Grounds, is pretty good, he says. Accessible. Flat. The gravel isn’t too limiting. But he did ask them to move the mirror down in the accessible bathroom so he could see himself.
One in five people in Australia live with disability, yet Booth still regularly encounters people who’ll walk across the street or pull their children closer to avoid him. It’s an experience he’s only just coming around to discussing in his art.
“The more I make work about it, the more I’m asked about it,” says Booth. “It’s nice. I like talking about it.”
Hostile Infrastructure is at Testing Grounds until April 21.