ASMR is a term that describes a physical sensation: euphoria or deep calm, sometimes a tingling in the body. In recent years an online audience of millions has grown, dedicated to watching the work of designers and content creators who try to trigger this feeling in their viewers. They do it by whispering or eating, touching or tapping, and more besides. This exhibition is the first dedicated to this feeling, and the emerging field of creativity that has grown up around it.
✶ A second incarnation opened at the Design Museum in 2022.
As little as a decade ago, ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) was largely dismissed as a figment of the imagination. Today the term represents one of the largest movements on the Internet, and it has become impossible to ignore. As academic institutions around the world seek to make sense of the phenomenon, creatives—known as “ASMRtists”—are building on a cultural movement that transcends language and culture in favour of bodily ‘feels’.
Like meditation or yoga, ASMR happens to both your body and to your mind. It is not about speed, but about focus and slowness. ASMRtists do ot seek to entertain but to relax; for experiencers, it offers a degree of insulation from a noisy, wandering world. Through sound and film, shared through broadcasting platforms such as YouTube, works of ASMR make room for close-looking, close-listening, and close-feeling.
ASMR injects the Internet with softness, kindness and empathy. As a form of digital intimacy, it offers comfort on demand, standing against the feeling of isolation that constant connectivity can deceptively breed. Anecdotally, ASMR is being used as a form of self-medication against the effects of loneliness, insomnia, stress, and anxiety. This is a cue to its success, and to its transcendental appeal.
WEIRD SENSATION FEELS GOOD (Konstig känsla känns bra) is the first exhibition of its kind to lift ASMR out from your screen and into public space. Step into an acoustically tuned environment and understand how people are deploying new and existing tools and materials to negotiate a complex world.
3Dio Sound, ANO ASMR, ASMRctica, Anders Tallsjö, Andreas Wannerstedt, Anson Fogel, Anthony Wilks, Björk, Bob Ross, Craig Richard, David Bull, FredsVoice ASMR, HaircutHarry, HidaMari Cooking, Holly Herndon + Claire Tolan, IKEA, Jennifer Allen, Life with MaK, Luca Iaconi-Stewart, Made in France ASMR, Marc Teyssier, MissASMR, PierreG ASMR, SHU AND TREE, The Slow Mo Guys, UNO ASMR, Wang & Söderström, WhisperingLife ASMR
SOFT GOSSIP by Claire Tolan comprises two immersive sound performances: Many Tongues in the Evening: Chorus and One Tongue in the Morning: Meditation. Both performances explore themes of hospitality, riddles and gossip, as well as the discipline, intimacy, and close-contact of close-listening. The sunset performance on October 2, 2020 featured a whisper chorus while the sunrise meditation October 3, 2020 was a solo performance.
The creative field of ASMR is an exploration of our experience of the material world. It is a world in which unexpected sounds can trigger unprovoked bodily responses, and where a closeness to objects and material culture can open up a new realm of feeling. In a Virtual ASMR Performance with Melinda Lauw broadcast live from Singapore on October 24, 2020, the co-founder of Whisperlodge subverted our assumed relationships to objects around us to offer a new way of experiencing our designed environment.