ASMR: Design Museum Unveils New Exhibition on Tingling Taboo

Written Leah Dolan, CNNLondon, Great Britain

ASMR – short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response – is a physical sensation that has dominated corners of the internet for the better part of a decade. It has a dedicated fan base, with over 14 million YouTube requests a month, and has launched an entire career where digital creators are very cautious about releasing ASMR-inducing content – soap-cutting, slime-kneading, and whisper-role-playing – all of which fall under the ban. puzzling genre – in the hope of gaining loyal viewers.

Usually experienced alone, in the bedroom or somewhere private (some have admitted to feeling irrational “shame” when watching ASMR), the rise of ASMR has been linked to our increasingly isolated digital age.

An exhibition at the Design Museum in London hopes to legitimize the often secret practice of ASMR. Credit: Ed Reeve

Now a new exhibition, Strange Feels Pleasant: The World of ASMR, at the Design Museum London aims to bring this highly personal and digital practice into the public and physical space.

The exhibition space features a variety of cues, from visual cues and audio clips to interactive installations combining sound and touch, each aimed at evoking physical sensations in visitors.

As someone who had never searched for ASMR videos before, or felt especially moved when the algorithm sent them to me anyway, my expectations for the exciting exhibit launching this elusive bodily sensation were low. A printed visitor’s guide containing several disclaimers, including a warning that “you may not feel anything at all” due to ASMR being “very individual”, made me suspicious that I would leave the event at rest. But I didn’t.

An interactive installation at the show encouraged users to create their own sounds that trigger ASMR.

An interactive installation at the show encouraged users to create their own sounds that trigger ASMR. Credit: Ed Reeve

It was like ASMR tapas – a little introduction to various neurological activations until you find one you want to feast on. For example, abstract motion graphics, while mesmerizing with their endless motions (one screen showed an endless object cut into pieces over and over again, like in a Play-Doh Fun Factory machine), did not entertain me, let alone make me my brain flinch. deep calm.

Wiping the microphone with a set of fluffy brushes while listening to playback, as one interactive installation instructed me to, made me laugh – but only because I couldn’t imagine who could have such an intuitive reaction to something so mundane.

And then I stepped into the brain-like talking pit in the center of the room: a completely off-white lounge space carpeted with accordion tubular pillows that seem to curve overhead when you lie down. There I stood motionless, mesmerized by a video of a South Korean groomer carefully grooming a white poodle. It completely soothed me: the sound of running water as the puppy was being shampooed in the huge chrome sink, the gentle blow of the hair dryer on his coat, the delicate cutting of crescent-shaped scissors; modeling the fur of this animal in the form of a topiary. I can’t remember how long I stood there, but it was until the video ended and a stranger came up and commented on my apparent infatuation.

The ASMR soft arena was built to mimic the privacy and comfort of a bedroom.

The ASMR soft arena was built to mimic the privacy and comfort of a bedroom. Credit: Ed Reeve

“It’s a bit like being in amniotic fluid, isn’t it?” said curator James Taylor-Foster near the brain pit. “Our main goal,” explained the architect who designed the show, Dagnia Smilga, “was to create a public space where you feel safe, secure and calm. So we used this round shape and these arms that kind of hug you.”

The curved pit includes several nooks and crannies where visitors can safely dive into them. “You can watch half of the work in the arena on YouTube,” Taylor-Foster said. “So this exhibition does something else. She invites you to understand these works in a different context, in a common setting. And understand them as part of a series of broader discourses.”

“슈앤트리 SHU AND WOOD”, The Korean groomers responsible for my meditative state have over 1.7 million YouTube subscribers. Nowhere in their profile is it mentioned that they are the creators of ASMR, but their video got me a reaction. It’s a form of “unintentional ASMR,” according to Taylor-Foster, part of a phenomenon that predates the current YouTube buzz. The late Bob Ross, another artist featured in the exhibition, is a key example of unintentional ASMR, according to Taylor-Foster, despite its soft support and the sound of brush bristles on canvas. Similarly, if you’ve ever fallen asleep to a BBC delivery forecast, you may be in ASMR. And all this to the fact that if so, then there is nothing to be ashamed of, assures Taylor-Foster.

“The point of making an exhibition about it is to say, ‘No, it’s not weird. Not in a negative way,” he said. “It’s actually part of the fabric of our lives. [putting on an exhibition] in the museum we legitimize it.”

The exhibition Strange Feels Good: The World of ASMR is open at the Design Museum London from May 13 to October 16, 2022.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.