Happy Hobart everyone! – reflections on art, Autism conferences and creme brûlée

I am not writing from Whimsy Manor today. This is the first blog I have ever written on location – and what a location! Hobart, capital of the apple isle, home of beautiful old architecture, temperate rain forests and yummy seafood and other foodie things. I got here on Sunday. It’s odd, I travel a fair amount but sometimes I don’t believe the place exists until I’m at the airport reflecting on the miracle that is aviation (as Harry Potter’s Mr Weasly wondered about what makes aeroplanes stay up). So here I am. My dad told me how much I would enjoy Hobart a few times, but I wasn’t sure if I would.

The trip started on a happy note. While I was waiting for my luggage to emerge from the baggage carousel, one of the organisers of the conference which was the reason I am in Hobart came over and introduced herself. She was there to pick someone else up but happily rearranged the contents of her car to fit me in (think Tetris with an overweight Autism advocate and a wine rack). My hotel was one of the oldest buildings around and boasted a cheery pub and cheerier receptionist. I enjoyed dinner in the restaurant with two of the other speakers who had come all the way from Western Australia. Dinner was enjoyable and we talked about all sorts of things. We shared a coffee creme brûlée with Frangelico ice cream for dessert  mmmmmmm.

I got back to my hotel room and watched some of a movie on Netflix – something about a young boy in 1980s England who gets involved with Nazi skinheads. Not my usual choice of movie but it was listed as ‘critically acclaimed’ and had all the hallmarks of an art house film. I was asleep before it ended.

On Monday I had a mission to complete – I was off to the Museum of Old and New Art, MONA to its friends. MONA is a gallery conceived and financed by an art-loving Aspie who funded it’s construction and upkeep through the proceeds of professional gambling. As a Masters graduate in the field of Fine Art/painting, I have visited a variety of galleries and art museums around the world but MONA is one of a kind. The best way to get to the gallery is by a big ferry with street art murals, boiler-suited young staff and a bar. The ferry steamed off down the Derwent river, past docks and houses climbing up hillsides and damp winter landscapes. It docked at the bottom of a flight of 99 stairs. This overweight Aspie had to take a short break somewhere near the top. On arriving I was provided with a purpose-built iPhone with information on all the art works (including an option called ‘art wank’ with an icon of a penis!) The friendly staff member told me to go to the bottom floor and work my way up.

The art was amazing. My favourite was a participative piece by Marina Abramovic where you left all your things in a locker, donned a white coat and noise-cancelling earphones and counted grains of rice and lentils. It was such an experience. The noiselessness rendered me alone but here I was in the company of people, doing a meditative activity who were also alone in the silent world. But together. It was exquisite. Other highlights were Irwin Wurm’s ‘Fat Car’ – a sculpture of an obese sport’s car – and a work where words about Australian experience were formed in droplets of water descending from a fountain. I also enjoyed a number of videos about various things, the ancient Egyptian works and a sculpture of a head with viewing portals in which were animations denoting thoughts or dreams. And yes, I did exit via the gift shop and bought myself a doll of Albert Einstein who thinks via solar power and some postcards to put on a wall in Whimsy Manor (I am running out of walls….)

In the evening I had dinner in the hotel restaurant…. completed with a coffee creme brûlée mmmmmm

I then caught up with photographer who was shooting notable people on the Autism spectrum for an art project. We had a delightful conversation in the chilly evening. He took shots of me standing on the waterfront and then did some character shots in my hotel room with me hunched over my computer, apparently working. It was just magic and I reflected on how lucky I am to have such an interesting and engaging life.

And this morning I got up and went to the conference I was speaking at. It was similar to many events I have attended and very enjoyable. My friend and ‘closest colleague’ Chris Varney was there, talking about his experiences and good work with the advocacy and mentoring organisation the I CAN Network. As always his speech was amazing and filled with things that I nodded and ‘mmm’ed at. Then the Autism CRC’s Marita Falkmer spoke about transitions from school to further education with people on the Autism spectrum, which was also excellent. There was a great synergy between what Chris was saying as a perspective of  ‘practice’ and Marita’s information from a ‘theory’ perspective (although that analogy is a little simplistic and doesn’t do either presentation the justice they both deserve).

A book was launched which I found out I had contributed to but didn’t realise! (Very funny being called up on stage for something I was unaware I’d done).

After lunch there was a panel discussion with Chris Varney, a young woman called Emily Brake and myself which was expertly moderated by Torbjorn Falkmer of Curtin University. I love a good panel discussion and we had a great, dynamic conversation between the four of us. At the end of the day it was time for my talk. I didn’t have a huge crowd but I had an appreciative crowd – it was so enjoyable talking to them about my employment journey and tips I had for them. I sold some books and noticed that almost all my book order forms had been taken. It is always an honour and a pleasure speaking to people about my own experiences. They are almost invariably generous and kind. It’s great to catch up with Autism world colleagues too. What I do at events like this is my driving passion, OK obsession if you like. These days I don’t even get nervous about speaking.

I got a lift back to the hotel and here I am, writing this. I will be off to the  restaurant soon…and yes, there will be creme brûlée for dessert. I have had a wonderful time. My words fail to convey the enjoyment adequately. And if anyone wants me to speak in Hobart or another Tasmanian place, please let me know. My dad was right, I love it here.


My speaker gift from the conference…which is made in Tasmania

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