OPULENT SEA – Disarming the Myth of Barrenness

CONTRAPUNTAL CONVERSATIONS

 

Scheherazade’s Sea

Intangible depths

Reaching for light

Dark secrets kept

Water engulfing

Fold upon fold

Stars reflecting

Sands of gold

Blue, the colour

Of deep silent pain

Ripping apart my ocean

With each drop of rain

Mistaken for madness

Love’s plaintive sighs

Red crimson tide

Bleeding goodbye

Wide, open skies

Myriad hues

Colours of sorrow

Sweet morning dew

Scheherazade’s sea

Intangible depths

Yet, perhaps, for Bluebeard

“Adieu”, is all that’s left

(Scheherazade’s Sea – Dawn-joy Leong, 2009)[1]

 

From the viewpoint of autistic sensory-cognitive parameters, the activity of normative society appears to be a frenetic fluttering in concentric circles around the proclaimed ‘Theory of Mind,’ which autistics are said to lack.[2]Within this milieu, social-focused day to day interactivity dominates the foreground of consciousness with orchestrations of subtle eye signals, facial contortions, linguistic innuendos, vocal inflections, written and unwritten semantics, spoken and unspoken fluid rules of etiquette, ego-centric flirtations and conspicuous affectations of social-emotional exchange – physical hugs, kisses, handshakes, and verbal utterings that may or may not contain concrete meaning for the autist. Neuroscientists have declared as ‘impaired’ those who fail to grasp the ‘machinations of deceit’ behind the Sally-Anne test, but to the autist, the relational world of the neuro-majority simply represents a confusing social bureaucracy lacking in logical order and consistency.

 

Meanwhile, inside a parallel domain, another conversation is unfolding: one in which chromatic tonalities, harmonic reverberations, whimsical meanderings, rhythmic iterations and gentle ebb-flow of visual-tactile-olfactory-auditory counterpoint take precedence. The autistic mind seeks out new sensations in the form of discovery, forging novel pathways of knowing the world, and connecting with material elements, animate and inanimate, through seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, physically traversing and mentally ruminating. This intricate diegesis hums with potent eloquence not necessarily semantic, and as a consequence, it remains largely unheard and even at times its existence and validity strongly contested by the prevalent social collective, whose interfacing is heavily entrenched and dependent upon the worded morphology. Predictability, regularity, rational sequence of cause and effect, and tangible engagement are benevolent anchors for the fluency of this conversation taking place within a physically palpable sentient domain, ‘invisible’ only because of its distrust of verbal didactic.

 

Departing Bluebeard’s Castle

 

In this chapter, my material practice shall be introduced as it manifests my model of autism as a Parallel Embodiment, revealing the concrete corporeal-mental expanse of Space of Mind and the autistic empathic dimension as an abundant, thriving organic ecology. Materialising this extrapolation of contemporaneous colloquy forms the driving force of my artistic praxis. Emanating from this paradigm is the assertion that intrinsic autistic modality employs a different ‘language,’ or mode of communication, within its own native semiotics and predilection for connectivity. This is at the moment in stark contrast to the dominant archetype for autism, which looks at autism from the non-autistic premise and presumes incompetence and dysfunction as a fundamental principle. Although the situation is slowly changing, the trope of impairment nevertheless dominates and reverberates strongly throughout current autism-related discourse.

 

In 2002, Bryna Siegel, professor of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, was quoted as saying this about autistics:

 

“It’s as if they do not understand or are missing a core aspect of what it is to be human; to be and do like others and absorb their values.”… “Their worlds are more barren, their social world is very distorted, and they come out of their world not when you want them to, but when they want to.” – Bryna Siegel[3]

 

A few years later, autism rights advocate and non-speaking autist, Amanda Baggs, uploaded her video, “In My Language,” in which she describes the non-speaking world of autism as a rich interplay of elemental-material correspondence.[4] Baggs’ powerful video was dedicated to Ashley X (pseudonym), a young girl born with a severe brain impairment that left her unable to move any part of her body on her own, and although mentally alert and responsive to her surroundings, she had to be tube-fed and needed round-the-clock care for the rest of her life. Ashley developed precocious puberty at the age of six, and her parents decided to subject her to a hysterectomy and removal of emergent breast buds to prevent menstruation and growth of the breasts. She also had hormone therapy to close her growth plates. All these procedures are part of a process known as “growth attenuation,” which is a highly controversial treatment to arrest the natural growth of a non-ambulatory person with such severe cognitive disabilities that there is deemed no hope for other forms of mitigations. Proponents of this treatment argue that arresting the growth of the person makes it easier for the person to be cared for and thus improves quality of life.

 

The video shows Baggs engaging with water, flapping her hands in stimming actions, and humming, while ‘speaking’ through a software programme that turns typed words into audible speech. This video, which has since gone viral across the internet, earning Baggs both admirers and detractors, explains succinctly the nature of the parallel conversation taking place underneath, around, across and above that of normative social-speak.

 

“…my language is not about designing words or even visual symbols for people to interpret. It is about being in a constant conversation with every aspect of my environment. Reacting physically to all parts of my surroundings.”

“Far from being purposeless, the way that I move is an ongoing response to what is around me.” – Amanda Baggs[5]

 

In her blog post, Baggs also dedicates the bitingly poignant video as a response to Bryna Siegel, the psychologist whose view is that autism is a bleak, antithetical existence to what is deemed as acceptable human existence, and autists are socially deficient beings who refuse to emerge when the normative world wants them to, but “only when they want to.”[6]

 

“Ironically the way that I move when responding to everything around me is described as ‘being in a world of my own’ whereas if I interact with a much more limited set of responses and only react to a much more limited part of my surroundings people claim that I am ‘opening up to true interaction with the world’. They judge my existence, awareness, and personhood on which of a tiny and limited part of the world I appear to be reacting to.” – Amanda Baggs[7]

 

Coincidentally, Baggs’ video emerged in 2007, the same year that my own journey in autism research and artistic practice applications began when I embared on my M.Phil in music composition and interdisciplinary practice at the University of Hong Kong. Baggs’ video was, however, at the time, unknown to me, as I had not yet become privy to the world of autism self-advocacy, and had only the deficits-focused model of psychiatry to instruct and employ. Nevertheless, it has always been one of my artistic goals to offer concrete and realistic reflections of the sensory-cognitive world of autism, not only as an expressive articulation of my internal neurological province, nor merely as an exercise in education or information, but rather to draw the Other into a palpable experiential realm of Self.

 

My poem quoted at the beginning of Chapter 4 is from a segment in Scheherazade’s Sea, 2010, in which Scheherazade is juxtaposed with another literary character, Bluebeard, the violent aristocrat from a French folktale who imprisoned and murdered his wives. In my story, Scheherazade (the autist), half in love with and bound to Bluebeard in a complex and twisted web of psychological manipulation and oppression, finally extricates herself from Bluebeard’s stranglehold. To the autist-Scheherazade, Bluebeard represents the figure of neuro-colonial imposition upon native autistic Being. A driving force behind my artistic practice is the vocalisation of Scheherazade’s liberation from Bluebeard, expressed through the intrinsic autistic sensory-based vernacular.

 

Far from being the kind of “barren” wasteland described by Bryna Siegel, Scheherazade’s Sea, 2010 elucidated a world teeming with narratives, multi-layered sensory confrontations, and vibrant emotional vigour. Through Scheherazade’s Sea, 2010, I was enunciating, “My world is not infertile, why don’t you step inside with me?” Similar to Baggs’ video, my multi-medium, multi-sensorial construction represented one autistic individual’s contribution to the growing body of personal narratives and innovative scientific studies by autistics about autism – a trenchant riposte to the ‘Establishment,’ denouncing and discrediting the sinister de-humanising viewpoints of neuro-colonial tyranny. Scheherazade’s Sea, 2010 established the foundational platform for my on-going and current artistic practice.

 

The autist as artist and artist as autist

 

The idea of creating “autistic art” seems too clichéd. As an autistic person and a practising artist, I prefer to avoid such arbitrary framing. Scheherazade’s Sea 2010 was never intended to fit into such a mold. What the seminal work did, however, was to help crystallise key creative concepts and approaches based on intrinsic hallmarks of autistic sensory-cognitive functionality in a broader aspect as well as on a specific and intimate level.

 

My paper, “Art in a Hidden World – creative process and hidden anomaly,”[8] was published in 2012, at the beginning of my PhD candidature. In this paper, I articulated the aspects of my creative process that were inextricably bound to the ways I comprehended and communicated with the world through unique sensory and cognitive pathways, using examples from Scheherazade’s Sea, 2010. This work was intensely eclectic, incorporating multiple disciplinary practices including visual and installation art, composed music, vocalisation and instrumental performance, video and soundscape, theatrical narrative, poetry and interactive multi-sensorial engagement. My artistic approaches, creative decisions and operational modes were influenced by deeply entrenched sensorial modalities of autism, and have continued to play key roles in my creative pedagogy.  For example, my detail-focused attention manifests as meticulous attention to minutiae in the array of deliberately small installations; avid sensory engagement and connectivity is apparent in the richness of texture, colour, eclectic use of material and design of the set; and working in relative isolation from human social interaction until the final staging of the work helped me to connect better with the sensorial-elemental dimension, which facilitated creativity within a less stress inducing interruptive environment. The elucidation of these components formed a basic springboard for further research and artistic practice.

 

In November 2012, I participated in a conference, workshop and exhibition event at the Hong Kong Baptist University.[9] My paper, “Thinking through the Body – a multimodal perspective from autism,”[10] enunciated a further developed artistic approach from innate autistic sensory-cognitive functioning (from the previous “Art in a Hidden World”).  In essence, the paper, “Thinking through the Body,” was an exercise in framing experiential fragments, turning inside out to invite the outside in. It was in this paper that I began to formulate specific concepts of elemental symbiosis and sensorial approaches to interactive communication based on intimate functioning predilections, and how these may be concretised via artistic praxis.

 

A ‘wearable’ prototype, developed during the workshop, attempted to materially manifest some of the principles articulated in the paper.The “Haptic HugShrug,” shown in Haptic Interface, 2012, is a calming blanket offering deep pressure stimulation. Following from here, I will also outline how my interactive installation space “Haptic Autistry 2012” materializes those principles.

 

THE HAPTIC HUGSHRUG– deep consolation

SONY DSC 

Figure 8 Haptic HugShrug (original prototype) 2012, Haptic Interface Exhibition, Hong Kong. Material: Pure Merino Wool Top | Approximate dimensions: Length 1.5m x Width 1m x Thickness 4cm | Weight: approximately 3.5kg. (Photo: Dr. Yip Chi-Lap, used with permission)

 

The Haptic HugShrug, 2012 prototype was developed during the Haptic Interface 2012 ten-day workshop, 10-20 November, which culminated in an exhibition from 20 November to 16 December 2012 at the Koo Ming Kown Gallery, the Baptist University of Hong Kong. The aim behind the workshop was to facilitate researchers and practitioners from diverse backgrounds to come together and develop new ideas relating to the body with innovative use of materials provided.

Thus, participants were encouraged to create ‘wearables’ utilising equipment and material provided by event sponsors.

 

While many individuals with Autism Spectrum Condition live with sensory anomalies, and are averse to human touch, we, just like everyone else, crave the sensation of warm and firm embrace. Studies have revealed that deep pressure haptic stimulation, especially that which enwraps, relaxes and calms panic symptoms and sensory alarm that are common features in autism and other sensory-cognitive idiosyncratic conditions (e.g. ADHD, PTSD etc).[11] Temple Grandin developed the renowned “Squeeze Machine,” for this purpose. In her machine, the user is able to regulate the intensity of pressure by activating a lever. My “Haptic HugShrug” is a response to Grandin’s machine, but was created to deliberately eschew technology, and address sensory-sympathetic need at its most basic, primal level. Made from soft Merino wool top, using crochet technique, the shrug can be draped around the shoulder, ‘worn’ or used as a mini blanket or sensory mat to lie on. Its weight provides the sensation of deep pressure, while the softness and warmth of fine Merino wool serves as supportive comfort to the wearer, who is able to regulate the intensity of the ‘hug’ by pulling at the edges or wrapping it tighter.

 

The Haptic HugShrug emerged as a spontaneous response to the sensorial and social dissonance experienced, the awkwardness of the unfamiliar social environment into which I was immersed during the workshop, and a decisive inward act of empathy towards Self.

 

 Rubato– traversing Self empathy

 

Social interaction within normative frameworks is fraught for most autistic persons. The specific responses may differ from person to person, and depending on the specific circumstance, but the common factor is to operate in a non-native milieu. For me, I function better in social situations where I am able to perceive form, structure and purpose. It is like navigating a properly crafted stage set as an actor in a play: knowing where the table is, for example, helps tremendously when the script calls for standing next to it while delivering your lines, or being able to trust that the chair will not crumble from your weight when you are required to sit in it. It is extremely stressful for me to extemporise socially when there is no recognisable semblance of order.

 

The written programme for the workshop appeared well conceptualised and thorough, but in reality, its execution fell far short.  One of the advertised features of the workshop was that participants were supposed to conduct mini sessions outlining our fields of practice to the rest of the group. My autistic mind approached this seriously, I had studiously studied the schedule and notes sent to me, and I was very much looking forward to its implementation and my participation. When it came to my turn, the organiser made an announcement the afternoon before to remind everyone of the event, but when I arrived prepared for the session half an hour early, the organiser was nowhere to be found. An hour after the session was scheduled to begin, the organiser sauntered into the room and began chatting with the other members, who were engaging in extended small talk around morning coffee, showing no indication that she was aware of the scheduled information session I was supposed to conduct. The schedule was printed and put up on the notice board at the back of the room, and it puzzled me that no one seemed to pay much attention to it. I am not certain why I never asked the organiser what had happened to this event, but no mention of its existence was made thereafter. It was as if my session had been swallowed up by an invisible entity. Despite this rather eerily obfuscating atmosphere, my ego remained unshaken, though my senses were inflamed by the effort I had to make to prepare and present myself in the room. I had to endure the sensory horror of an hour’s bus and train journey, jostling and fighting the rush hour crowd in over-populated Hong Kong. By the time I arrived at the venue, I was teetering on the edge of sensory meltdown. I was therefore frustrated and vexed at the wasted exertion, and the subsequent added effort I needed to make to prevent myself from a meltdown. For the sake of sensorial equilibrium, I was happy to let the matter slip into obscurity, and quite happily scuttled off to work on my Haptic HugShrugprototype.

2012 HAPTIC HUGSHRUG wooltop

Figure 9 Pure Merino wool top – experimenting with touch, smell, texture and weight.

 

2012 HAPTIC HUGSHRUG IMG_1791.jpg

Figure 10 Elemental confabulation – responding to the material.

 

During the first few days, I religiously presented myself at the workshop on time, determined to stay till the end, even when the programmes promised for the day failed to be delivered on numerous occasions, and there were lengthy time lapses in between, which I made full use of by engaging with my Haptic HugShrug in my little corner of the room. Throughout, the other participants seldom acknowledged my presence, and I felt especially alienated by those who seemed to have formed among themselves a central clique. The only person with whom I managed to share lengthy and meaningful conversation was a non-autistic artist with a physical disability. She confided that she felt similarly left out by the main group of people, but, like me, it did not particularly cause her any emotional grief, since she was not interested in excessive socialising outside the perimeters of work. Our conversations revolved around our research and practice, and our projects at hand.

 

Eventually, however, I became exceedingly overwhelmed by the assaultive sensory environment in the room and discouraged by the absence of organisational structure. Fluorescent lights overhead flickered and jabbed at my eyes like flashing knives, and the constant verbal chatter and jarring music scraped at my auditory senses, wearing me down. There were times when the social banter from the main group of people filled the physical space with what felt like large glutinous, viscoelastic sonic bubbles, bouncing and floating around the room from person to person. I was an invisible, spectral spectator, trapped within the vortex of a sensorially assaultive drama with a tedious, uninteresting plot. It was difficult to concentrate on the task at hand, while immersed and confined within inclement space. After awhile, I began to suffer from fever and extreme fatigue, the environment in the workshop was not worth the onerous and sensorially triggering journey back and forth.

 

Consciously making a decision to acknowledge my own needs and make due accommodation for Self, I decided to bring my Haptic HugShrugprototype back to ‘home-base’ and complete it in peace, quiet and isolation. I gathered up the heavy balls of wool top in a large suitcase, and dragged the case through the long train and bus journey back to my temporary abode.

 

Rondo– structure, repetition and freedom of expression

 

Once back in ‘home base,’ I was able to concentrate without hindrance. I was staying at a friend’s apartment situated in an outlying island, apart from the hustle and bustle of the city. My friend was away on a work assignment and I had the entire space to myself. The isolation spelled tranquillity, and I became energised and refreshed from the simple process of inhaling and exhaling the ambient calm. I have always worked better in relative isolation, when I am able to disconnect with the extraneous (social-related incursions) and connect with the fundamental (palpable material) realms. For the remaining days, I established a new routine and structure, which provided the safe physical scaffolding I needed for my creative work. I could choose what I wanted to eat – the specific textures and tastes in my food are important to my overall sensory balance – and the time at which to eat; I did not have to engage in superfluous conversation; and there was no need to perform proprioceptively, that is, my hands, feet, arms, legs and body were not required to behave according to the dictates of normative social convention. I dissembled the piece that I had begun at the workshop space: my sensory rapport with the work in progress was stilted and awkward, the tension of the crochet did not feel ‘right’ to my fingers, its rhythm was truncated, and it did not drape or hang on the body with the fluidity that I wanted. The ambient setting in which any work of creative expression is brought into being greatly impacts its character and essence. In the solitude of my own clement space, I could connect with the wool – touch, stroke, smell, and listen to the resonance of its fibres – and link these associations and sensations with the rhythmic pulse of ‘making.’ The repetitive proprioceptive movements and the sound and texture of the wool running through my hands and wrists acted like a stylised form of stimming, while the growing weight of the piece provided comforting pressure against my body. In the workshop, time unfolded differently in space, I had to cope with multiple disturbances and anxieties, and it was impossible to immerse myself into any meaningful sensory conversations and elemental connectivities.

 

2012 HAPTIC HUGSHRUG complete

Figure 11 (Left) Reconnecting and reworking the Haptic HugShrug; (Right) Completed and ready to show.

 

At the end of the workshop week, I returned to the space with my finished prototype, and participated in the discussion about how to display the pieces and the printing and mounting of the titles and descriptions. I submitted mine with the rest. At the exhibition opening, however, all the other titles and descriptions were neatly put up next to the prototypes, with the exception of mine, which was nowhere to be found. It finally surfaced after two days and several attempts to remind the organiser of this small oversight. I wondered afterwards if the omission had anything to do with my not being in the thick of socialising activity and therefore somehow missed out on some communication or other, which is not an unusual occurrence where autists are concerned.

 

Not all autists are averse to socialising. Some autistic individuals even claim to be extroverted, that is, they very much enjoy social interaction, although intrinsic socialising styles may nevertheless remain different from the normative.[12] For me, there is always a high price in sensorial dissonance to pay where social interaction is concerned, and physical exhaustion is usually the exacting result, whether or not I have enjoyed the occasion. Therefore, although I am not averse to the social interface, my predilection for meaning and order take precedence. In the case of the Haptic Interface workshop, while I was happy that nobody spoke much to me at all, the obligatory social chit-chat at lunchtime was excruciating, not because I am a shy person, but merely because of the paucity of consequential content in the unavoidable verbal exchanges.

 

A self-intervention strategy I have had to devise is ‘re-structuring’ and establishing order when encountering unstable, chaotic conditions. I have found that it is possible to train my own mind to become more adept at processing fluctuations and uncertainty, which is very useful during situations such as my experience in this workshop. Designing coping strategies within native frameworks is, from my personal experience, a far more efficacious and pleasant approach than employing forceful methods based on non-native paradigms. The autistic mind actively seeks and thrives on regularity, predictability and logical systems,[13]a phenomenon attributed to a highly systemising cognition.[14]It would be excruciating to the autist to be subject to behavioural modification methods that seek to deliberately break this proclivity in order to achieve normative expectations of flexibility or acquiescence in the face of what an autistic brain would classify as frightening pandemonium.

 

 

The Haptic HugShrug prototype evolved into two variations, which I exhibited in separate events in 2013 and 2014.

 

HAPTIC HUGSHRUG version 2, 2013 @ Vivid Sydney

IMG_7621haptichugshrug2.jpg

Figure 12 In 2013, the original prototype was reworked into a longer and narrower piece, and exhibited at the Vivid Sydney 2013 as part of a group pop-up exhibition. Haptic HugShrug v.2, Vivid Sydney 2013, pop-up exhibition. Material: Pure Merino Wool Top | Approximate dimensions: Length144cm x Width30cm x Thickness 6cm | Weight: 2kg

 

Haptic HugShrugversion 3, 2015 @Sonata in Z

2015 Haptic HugShrug _DSC2379ed 

Figure 13 Three years later, the Haptic HugShrugwas reworked a third time and included in “Sonata in Z 2015”. This piece (version 3) weighed 2kg and was created using the ‘arm-knitting’ technique, which produced a looser weave. This was one of Lucy’s favourite pieces, she loved to lie on it, snuggle her nose underneath, and rub her face in the soft, richness.

 

 

HAPTIC AUTISTRY, 2012– wading into reciprocity

 

My mini experimental space, Haptic Autistry, 2012, was a playful prelude to the subsequent experiments in immersive reciprocity, which I developed from 2012-2015.

2012 HapticAutistry IMG_5001

Figure 14 Haptic Autistry, 2012, Haptic Interface, Koo Ming Kown Gallery, Baptist University of Hong Kong.

 

For Scheherazade’s Sea 2010, I was able to maintain adequate organisational control over the entire work, from conception and development to execution, as I was working mostly alone and had full authority over every aspect of the production. By contrast, the actualisation of Haptic Autistry, 2012was executed largely spontaneously, in situ. The same organisers of the conference and workshop curated the Haptic Interface 2012 exhibition, of which my Haptic Autistry was a part. I was in Sydney prior to the event and unable to personally view the exhibition site before planning my exhibit. I made numerous requests for photographs and floor plans, but did not receive any clear visual or written descriptions ahead of time. In fact, my space was only allocated to me a day after I had arrived.

 

Uncertainty and fluctuations are extremely discordant to the autistic mind, and greatly hamper level and quality of function. Having to survive competently in an environment where social and organisational fluidity tends to take precedence over precision and meticulous coordination presents a perpetual tension riddled challenge to the autist in search of order. To prepare, I had to create a tangible yet flexible system – for my own mental equilibrium as well as to address the task at hand. I created multiple ‘movable’ pieces that would fit into any space, yet nevertheless still lend themselves to thematic cohesion. This is a method I employed in Scheherazade’s Sea, 2010, creating independent microcosmic entities which when combined formed a coherent whole. The approach is a response to my detail-focused perceptivity and fascination for minutiae.

 

The centrepiece was a silk, lace and organza bustier dress. In keeping with my preference for working with existing personal and ‘found’ objects, a practice established in Scheherazade’s Sea, 2010, the main installations derived from my personal collection of wearables. Although I had no idea where it would eventually be positioned, I designated this dress as the focal point in my exhibition, to be suspended from the ceiling. Attached to the satin lining of the dress were numerous safety pins of various sizes. The pins were whimsical indications of pain and discomfort, and the dress represented an intimate symbol of jarring dichotomies: normative values of beauty and adornment versus the stark reality of sensory dissonance. A pair of high-heeled shoes and matching clutch-sling handbag formed the secondary focuses. Originally made from white patent leather, I covered the external surfaces with burnt gold acrylic paint using a rough brush for textural effect. Shards of broken glass were embedded inside the shoes, another symbol of ironic sensory juxtaposition of agony and perceived beauty. Since I did not have a budget to transport my works to the venue, I planned my pieces according to how much I could carry in my suitcase. Other peripheral installation items were a small vintage suitcase, a hand knitted wool shawl texturally embellished with assorted buttons, and a wide belt crocheted from hemp and raffia. I would have to improvise and acquire the rest of the material as soon as I was able to ascertain the space for my exhibit. Another important component of the space was the soundscape. Without knowing beforehand the specific dimensions and features of my exhibition space, I made a basic, simple plan: I wanted to record the ambient sounds while at the same time produce a ‘live’ playback of sonic textures created by visitors as they explore the exhibit space. For this, I used a recording device to document the internal soundscape for future use, and a playback device to highlight to visitors the experience of the unique and ephemeral soundscape that they helped to create while exploring and engaging with the installations.

 

It was most fortuitous that the space allocated to me was under a high ceiling, set in a corner, framed on one side by a large glass-paneled wall, and the other a tall wall that was part of a staircase leading up to the floor above. It was a small and narrow space, which was ideal for my purposes, as I had intended to create a sense of privacy, a ‘nook’ into which visitors would retreat, while still being part of the general flurry of activity going on beyond the threshold.

 

As soon as I was able to ascertain the frameworks within which I had to work, I was able to proceed without much anxiety. I took measurements and photographs of the space using my mobile phone, made a mental sketch of where I could place my installations, and set forth to obtain more material. The photographs of the space helped as a reference tool for more accurate visualisation. Although there was a substantial amount of anxiety brought on by having to juggle a number of unknown factors, as well as communication difficulties with the organiser, the actual setting up process was nevertheless an enjoyable ‘in-the-moment,’ spontaneous exercise of engaging with and reacting to the static and dynamic interaction of site, space, situation, and pre-created and spontaneously acquired objects. I was delighted at being situated slightly away from everyone else. The space accorded to me a separation from the social goings on in the main exhibition area. Inside, I could have elemental conversations with each piece as I positioned them, connecting one to another in relation within my Space of Mind. The pieces I brought with me were highly personal items from my collection of wearables. They were re-worked to reflect the dichotomies of sensory attraction and aversion. As I lay them each out, I was communicating on a sensory level, listening to the ambient sounds, feeling the positions of the pieces in relation to one another and my body moving inside the space. The smell from the lemons was energising and calming at the same time, it gathered into its aura my visual, tactile activity, holding the work together in a light, citrus embrace.

Figure 15 A visual chronicle of Haptic Autistry 2012as it unfolded, from the setting up to the opening and through the week long run.

2012 Haptic Autistry IMG_5003

Figure 16 Completed and waiting for the opening, the centerpiece lightly swaying in the cross-breeze, ‘burning’ with anticipation, as the citrus scent held the space together inside its aura.

2012 Haptic Autistry IMG_8605

Figure 17 (Left) Welcome to Haptic Autistry, 2012. (Right) One of my first visitors exploring the space.

It is important for sensorial thinkers and learners like myself to engage with elemental-material connections while managing abstract social demands. Creating art has helped me to discover and strengthen innate qualities and abilities, while learning to devise better coping strategies to navigate and address challenges. My participation in the conference, workshop and exhibition was valuable in that the experience opened up opportunities to acquire new skills and perspectives. The Haptic HugShrug prototype and Haptic Autistry, 2012 consolidated and concretised theoretical ideas presented in the two conference papers prior to this event, and helped to propel my research and practice forward, towards the three larger installations that formed the main body of work of my PhD practice, to be discussed in the next chapter.

 


 

Footnotes

 

[1]Dawn-joy Leong, Scheherazade’s Sea: A Multi-media, Multisensory Installation and Performance, (M.Phil thesis, Hong Kong University, 2010).

[2]The most (in)famous claim in the field of autism studies remains the assertion that autists are impaired because they are unable to grasp the intricacies of normative Theory of Mind, and hence, it is inferred that autists lack empathic ability; Simon Baron-Cohen, Alan M. Leslie and Uta Frith, “Does the Autistic Child have a “Theory of Mind”?” Cognition, 21 (1985)37-46.

[3]Mike Falcon and Stephen A. Shoop, ‘Stars ‘CAN-do’ about defeating autism,’ USA Today, accessed April 16, 2016, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/spotlight/2002/04/10-autism.htm

[4]Mel Baggs, “In My Language,”Ballastexistenz, blog post, January 15, 2007, accessed April 16, 2016,  https://ballastexistenz.wordpress.com/2007/01/15/in-my-language/(Formerly Amanda Baggs, she has changed her name on her blog site to Mel.)

[5]SilentMiaow, “In My Language,” YouTube, Jan 14, 2007, accessed January 10, 2016, https://youtu.be/JnylM1hI2jc.

[6]Falcon and Shoop, “Stars ‘CAN-do’”.

[7]SilentMiaow, “In My Language.”

[8]Dawn-joy Leong, “Art in a Hidden World – creative process and hidden anomaly,” The International Journal of the Arts in Society: Annual Review, Vol.7, (2013).

[9]Dawn-joy Leong, “Thinking through the Body – a Multimodal Approach from Autism,” (paper presented at The International Conference for Research Creativity: Praxis, Baptist University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 21-23 November 2012).

[10]Ibid., ‘Appendix B’; The conference organisers failed to publish the papers for reasons undisclosed. Copyrights belong to the author and I have attached the full paper in this thesis.

[11]Blairs, S., Slater, S. and Hare, D. J. , “The clinical application of deep touch pressure with a man with autism presenting with severe anxiety and challenging behaviour,” British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35 (2007): 214–220, accessed 29 March 2016, doi: 10.1111/j.1468-3156.2007.00452.x; Vandenberg N.L., “The use of a weighted vest to increase on-task behaviour in children with attention difficulties” American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 55 (2001): 621–8; Temple Grandin, “Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students and Animals,” Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 2(2009): 63-72, accessed 29 March 2016, doi:10.1089/cap.1992.2.63.

[12]Nele Muyleert, “The Extrovert Aspie,” The Curly Hair Project LTD., August 5, 2014, accessed February 2, 2016, http://thegirlwiththecurlyhair.co.uk/blog/2014/08/05/extrovert-aspie/

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