Tony Heaton: Gold Lamé

Tony Heaton is a sculptor and disability rights activist. In his artwork he often uses objects associated with disability, such as wheelchairs or charity collection cans. By changing their appearance, meaning and context, he questions our perceptions of disability and access and challenges ableist ways of seeing.

Gold Lamé is based on an Invacar, the very basic three-wheeled vehicles that were once given to disabled people by the NHS. From 1948 and for over 30 years, the Invacar was provided to address the lack of access to public transport. Production of Invacars stopped in the late 1970s and in 2003 it became illegal to drive them due to safety concerns.

Heaton was issued with an Invacar in 1971. This is how he described it: “a single seat, sat on a chassis of three wheels, space for a folding wheelchair, propelled by a small motorcycle engine... three gears plus reverse and a maximum speed of around 45 mph. The single seat meant that you travelled alone, the assumption had to be that you had no friends, family, lovers: the solitary cripple, other.”

In Gold Lamé Heaton transforms an Invacar into sculpture. He was inspired by the idea of alchemy: “turning a base metal into gold, turning something of little value into a substance of value”. Government-issued Invacars were all painted in the same shade of pale blue, collectively marking their users as different to other drivers. Heaton’s vehicle is now dazzling gold and raised off the ground. It is no longer ‘lame’ – a negative term previously used to describe physical disabilities or something of little worth – it has become ‘lamé’, the name for a type of shimmering gold or silver fabric. Although playful in his approach, Heaton confronts the negative stereotyping of disabled people that the vehicle represents.