ASMR – short for autonomous sensory meridian response – is a physical sensation that has dominated one corner of the Internet for the best part of a decade. It has a dedicated following, with over 14 million monthly searches on YouTube, and has launched a full-fledged career, where digital makers release so gently ASMR-induced content – soap-cutting, slim-nadding and whispering roles all fall into disrepair. Section – In the hope of gaining a loyal audience.
The exhibition at the Design Museum in London hopes to legitimize ASMR’s often confidential practice. Credit: Ed Reeve
Now, a new exhibition at the Design Museum in London, “Wired Sensation Feels Good: The World of ASMR,” seeks to take this highly personal and digital practice into a public and physical space.
From visual cues and audio clips to interactive installations that combine sound with touch, each aims to create a physical sensation in the audience.
Anyone who has never searched for ASMR videos before, or felt particularly impressed when the algorithm sent them anyway, had low expectations of a submerged display dedicated to triggering this elusive physical sensation. A printed visitor’s guide containing a number of disclaimers, including a warning that “nothing can be felt” because ASMR being “so unique” raised my suspicions that I would leave the event cold. But I didn’t.
An interactive installation on display encouraged users to create their own ASMR-triggering sound. Credit: Ed Reeve
It felt like an ASMR tapas – a small bite-sized role in various nervous activations until you find one you want to eat. Graphics of abstract motion, for example, although their infinite motion hypnosis (an endless object seen on a screen being repeatedly cut off) did not entertain me with a play-doh fun factory machine, let me send my brain to a machine. Deep calm.
Dusting a microphone with a fluffy brush toolkit while listening to playback, as instructed by an interactive installation, made me laugh – but only because I could not have imagined that there would be such a visceral reaction to something so mundane.
And then I entered the cerebral-looking conversation hole in the center of the room: a complete off-white carpeted lounging area made up of concertinad tubular cushions that, when lying down, seem to arch well over your head. There I stood motionless, fascinated by a video of a South Korean dog feather that carefully caressed a white poodle. It completely calmed me down: the sound of running water while shampooing a puppy in a cave-filled chrome sink, the gentle blowing of a hair dryer on his coat, the subtle sniping of crescent-shaped scissors; Sculpting the fur of this animal like a topiary. I can’t remember how long I stood there, only until the end of the video and a stranger came and commented on my visible fascination.
The padded ASMR Arena was created to mimic the privacy and comfort of bedroom space. Credit: Ed Reeve
“You look like you’re in amniotic fluid, don’t you?” Curator James Taylor-Foster said outside the brain-pit. “Our main goal,” explained Dagnija Smilga, the architect behind the show’s design, “was to create a universal space where you feel safe, secure and calm. So we used these round shapes and these weapons that could embrace you.”
The curved pit has a handful of knocks and cranes where visitors can sink without hindrance. Taylor-Foster said, “Half the work in the case, you can see on YouTube.” “So this exhibition is doing something else. It invites you to understand these works in a different context, in a shared setting. And to understand it as part of a series of lectures.”
“The point of an exhibition about this is, ‘No, it’s not weird. Not in a negative sense,'” he said. “It simply came to our notice then [putting on an exhibition] In a museum, we’re legitimizing it. “
“Feeling Strange Feelings: The World of ASMR” is open at the Design Museum in London from May 13 – October 16, 2022.