ASMR: Design Museum Unveils New Exhibition on Tingling Taboo

Wrote Leah Dolan, CNNLondon, United Kingdom

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.

Usually alone, in the bedroom or somewhere private (some have admitted to feeling unreasonable “shame” when viewing ASMR), the rise of ASMR has been associated with our increasingly isolated digital age.
The exhibition at the Design Museum in London hopes to legitimize ASMR's often secretive practice.

The exhibition at the Design Museum in London hopes to legitimize ASMR’s often secretive 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.

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 still, 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.

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.”

‘슈앤 트리 SHU AND TREE’, the Korean dog breeder responsible for my meditative condition, has over 1.7 million YouTube members. Nowhere in their profile is it mentioned that they are ASMR makers, but their video reveals a reaction in me. This is a form of “unintentional ASMR”, says Taylor-Foster, a subplot of the phenomenon that precedes the current YouTube hype. According to Taylor-Foster, the late Bob Ross – another prominent artist in the exhibition – is a prime example of the unintentional ASMR for all his soft-spoken enthusiasm and the sound of the paintbrush on canvas. Similarly, if you’ve ever slept on a BBC shipping forecast, you may be on ASMR. And if you’re saying this, there’s no shame, Taylor-Foster assures.

“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.

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