Reluctant Advocate

I am not an “Autism Activist” – far from it – so, please do not call me that. Thank you. I do support the work of activists, it is a necessary force when things are woefully wrong and a great deal of vim and vigour is needed to create change for the better. It is just that my natural constitution does not fit well with the vivacity required for effective activism. Sometimes, though, I do engage in advocacy. Well, all right, quite often especially of late, but this is not what I deliberately set out to do. I am, first and foremost, an autistic researcher and multi-artist. Unpacking this further, my research interests include (but are not confined to) autism, autistic sensory idiosyncrasies, alternative and elemental empathic resonance, clement spaces of mind and body, and my material practice reflects this research, employing multiple artistic disciplines. I love my research and multi-art practice, and I adore my beloved Lucy Like-a-Charm, the two represent mental, emotional and physical wellbeing and equilibrium to me.

Lately, however, I find myself forced to neglect both my research and practice and my beloved muse Lucy, and grappling uncomfortably – eye-ball to eye-ball –  with a vehement and hearty form of vocal advocacy that stops just short of activism. Arts and Disability and Disability Arts are becoming prominent topics of discussion, development, exhibition and exploitation. At the same time, ‘Autism Awareness’ and all kinds of autism-focused activity have mushroomed seemingly from out of nowhere, permeating now the terrestrial spheres in various forms – public forums, fundraising events, educational workshops, with the mainstream and social media all abuzz. A recent article in a mainstream newspaper here in Singapore even used the term “neurodivergent”, which should have been a cause for celebration (as an indication of progress), but that initial susurrus of elation fizzled out quickly and landed flat on the floor with an unhappy squidgy ‘plop’ when I realised that the word was being employed according to Simon Baron-Cohen’s definition proposed in his article, Editorial Perspective: Neurodiversity a revolutionary concept for autism and psychiatry.” In this editorial, Baron-Cohen limited its application to those autistics deemed “high functioning” by the medical-pathological model, thereby excluding the entire population of non-speaking autistics that are relegated to the “low functioning” part of the ‘autism spectrum’. Autistic author, Maxfield Sparrow, has written an excellent critique of Baron-Cohen’s misrepresentation of the Neurodiversity Paradigm here: “Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen does not understand the neurodiversity paradigm.”

Not only are we still mired in the sludgy, viscid pulp of the traditional medical model of autism and locked in the vice-like grip of the charity model of disability arts practice, but emerging progressive models initiated by actual autistic advocates, researchers and scholars are now being purloined and reworked to fit the non-disabled / neuronormative colonial authority’s autocratic perspectives.

The Artist is not a solitary figure of eccentricity working completely cut-off and removed from all that is happening in the grand cosmic swirl of human frothing. Not this artist, anyway. Yes, I do understand that in one way or other, the disabled artist is inevitably connected to the fabric of disability advocacy, whether they wish to be or not (unless they refuse to identify as disabled and manage to hide the fact effectively). It becomes extremely difficult to practice art without acknowledging or being affected by an environment that is literally audibly buzzing with outdated ableist concepts, adulterated ideas touted as ‘new’ or ‘progressive’, a cacophony stolidly dominated by non-disabled / non-autistic colonialists who seem increasingly uncomfortable with the emerging alternative chorus of disabled  / autistic voices calling for “Disabled Leadership.”

Research and Art – this is what I am passionate about and what I want to engage in, and the medium of choice for my expressions to be embedded in or flow through. Yet, it seems to me, at this moment at least, that vociferous disability / autism advocacy is something I must do, in order to be free to be the Artist-Researcher that I am.

Nothing About Us Without Us – the message is rising in a polyphonic crescendo. However, when push comes to shove, will there be enough Actually Disabled / Actually Autistic leaders to step up and into the demanding lead roles when the colonialists finally loosen their tight grip over the libretto? And will there be inspired, energetic and spirited Disabled / Autistic Artists left, after the exhaustion of advocacy, to take centre stage?

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Space of Mind – Interview

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I was interviewed by Chloe Watson in this new magazine, Runway – Australian Experimental Art. Thank you, Chloe!

Space of Mind: An Interview with Dawn-joy Leong

“For autistic artist-researcher Dawn-Joy Leong, spaces are vividly coloured by scent, sound, sight and touch — sometimes overwhelming, even disgusting, at other times relaxing, harmonious, or gloriously amplified. Leong explores her heightened sensory experiences of the world through her art and writing, encouraging her audiences to engage with their own sensoriums, at the same time opening up avenues of empathy and communication between ‘neurodiverse’ and ‘neurotypical’”

Acknowledgements

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Sonorous Repose – Lucy Like-a-Charm 2015 by Dawn-joy Leong     (please do not reuse without seeking prior permission)

Dear Friends and Supporters,

We have made it! The PhD has passed muster and now it’s time for acknowledgements.

 —-

Scheherazade’s Sea – autism, parallel embodiment and elemental empathy.

 Dawn-joy Sau Mun Leong, UNSW Art & Design, April 2016

Dedication:

To my father, Dr. Leong Vie-Ying (1930-2007).

Acknowledgements:

This work would not have been possible without the following:

Deepest gratitude to my supervisors,

Professor Jill Bennett and Dr. Petra Gemeinboeck,

for your patience, guidance, advice, support, and for believing.

Thank you, Dr. Sally Clark, for your advice, encouragement and support.

My Lucy Like-a-Charm

My family:

Thank you, mother, Molly Chye Gek Ong, for your care and fortification.

My beloved baby-sister and faithful champion, Althea Leong,

thank you for always being here, there, and everywhere for me.

Dear brother-in-law, Robin Sing,

thank you for your patience, sustenance and unquestioning support.

My canine nephews, Bizcuit and Tiny Sing

Thank you, my friends who have played important roles in my journey:

Yee Sang, Ho

Rick Feedtime

Minh Vuong

Kateryna Fury

Colin G. Marshall and Misty Marshall

Shan Patterson and Sally Patterson

C.J. Wan Ling, Wee

Margie Anne Edmonds

Brad Beadel

Gavin Koh

Boon Ling, Yee

Shane Fenton

Andrea Kingan

Rosemary Wilkinson

and

Everyone who has walked a part of our journey alongside us, however briefly, every single moment has mattered.

The Big Anxiety Project

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The Big Anxiety Project

The BIG Anxiety Project is an innovative citizen science venture developing creative approaches to health research and data visualization.”

Lucy and I are honoured to be a small part of this amazing project, which kicks-off on 5 June 2016, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 3-6pm, level 6, with this interactive talk-cum-discussion session.

Friends in Sydney, if you will brave the weekend’s wet and wild weather, please do join us at this interactive event.

If you are not in Sydney or unable to attend the above event, please take part in the Big Anxiety Project’s survey on anxiety at the Black Dog Institute: click here!

Scheherazade’s Sea – autistic parallel embodiment and elemental empathy

Paper presented at UNSW Art & Design Postgraduate Conference, 17-19 June 2015.

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My Ph.D dissertation, tentatively entitled, Scheherazade’s Sea – autistic parallel embodiment and elemental empathy, is part of a protracted journey in search for Being: a detailed study of Self and Other, and examination of multidimensional interstices of dynamic, interactive reciprocities.

This research and practice rests upon three fundamental concepts:

  1. Parallel Embodiment,
  2. Endeavour of Empathy, and
  3. Space of Mind, from which emanates Elemental Empathy.

The theoretical foundation for this work is constructed from documented studies in neuroscience, anthropology, the arts and humanities, and personal anecdotal evidence from autistic individuals. At the same time, my artistic practice acts as concretising agency by creating experimental ‘sharable’ spaces that serve not merely to display autism but to invite dynamic, personified communion; connecting individuals across neuro-functional divides. Continue reading

Thinking Through The Body – a multimodal approach from autism

Paper presented at the International Conference for Research Creativity: Praxis, Baptist University of Hong Kong, 21-23 November 2012.

 

ABSTRACT

How should the artist approach practice and research without becoming so overly abstract that the grounded, proprioceptive concreteness of art becomes mired inside oppressive, draconian intellectualism? The reciprocal processes of researching artistic practice and practicing artistic research require actively synergetic, symbiotic sensory and cognitive engagement, the interaction and inter-reaction of the bodily senses with theoretical, philosophical insight and invention.

Sensorial contemplation, that is, “thinking through the body,” is an inherent trait of Autism Spectrum Condition. How do autistic sensory, proprioceptive and cognitive idiosyncrasies affect creative motivation and process? May the model of autism inspire a fresh perspective for research and praxis? As an artist with Autism Spectrum Condition, the aims of my paper are to provide an ‘insider’ view of how sensory and cognitive idiosyncrasy shape my creativity, and using the autistic body-mind model, suggest an alternative milieu for creating visionary collaborative research, and mutually empathic platforms. Continue reading