Re­lax, it’s only a video



THEY FEA­TURE SLIME, crack­ling plas­tic, whis­per­ing, scratch­ing, brush­ing and the thrum­ming of exquisitely groomed fin­ger­nails. They are, de­pend­ing on whom you talk to, ei­ther the an­ti­dote to anx­i­ety or a well­spring of an­noy­ance. But might they also be art?

Au­tonomous Sen­sory Merid­ian Re­sponse videos – ASMR to the mil­lions of view­ers who de­vour them on­line – have been de­scribed as ther­apy, sleep aids and brief va­ca­tions to Tin­gleville.

Also, a chance to watch strangers as they do bizarre stuff. They are about as old as this decade – un­less you hark back to the dul­cet tones of Bob Ross and “The Joy of Paint­ing”, which some older “tin­gle­heads” do.

ASMR videos are de­signed to pro­duce sen­sa­tions that orig­i­nate in the head and scalp and ra­di­ate through­out the body.

The name sounds pil­fered from a med­i­cal jour­nal, but it’s ba­si­cally Stuff that Makes You Tin­gle – the catch in a husky voice, a knife drawn through sand, a cat lick­ing her paw, what­ever sen­su­ous “trig­ger” works for you, as ASMR folks call it.

Lately, the ASMR move­ment seems to be en­ter­ing its com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion phase. The videos have been mon­e­tised, celebri­tised and coopted to sell Ikea fur­ni­ture, Dove choco­late and a McDon­ald’s Quar­ter Pounder, which seems pos­si­bly the least ASMR thing on the planet.

But early this year, Nato Thomp­son, artis­tic di­rec­tor of the no­madic non-profit Philadel­phia Con­tem­po­rary, watched his 13-year-old niece en­grossed in ASMR videos.

The work fea­tured a stylish woman press­ing her face into bread – the con­ceit, ap­par­ently, that view­ers who crave warm dough­i­ness against their flesh will de­rive vi­car­i­ous joy watch­ing her. But Thomp­son, who has viewed plenty of edgy video in­stal­la­tions in noted gallery set­tings, found it “aw­fully close to art”.

Hooked, he watched thou­sands of videos. Most, he says, were “plea­sur­ably dis­turb­ing”.

And so the ASMR Film Fes­ti­val was born, staged late last month on the Philadel­phia water­front at a newly ren­o­vated mixed-use pier. The fes­ti­val was open to re­gional teenagers and judged by three grown-up ASMR stars, in­clud­ing Bread Face, the “artist” who first at­tracted Thomp­son’s at­ten­tion.

ASMR is “to­tally use­less in a good way”, Thomp­son says. “It’s en­tirely tac­tile work to this en­tire gen­er­a­tion that’s en­tirely screenal.

“What’s nice is the ASMR world is very fe­male” whereas, his­tor­i­cally, the art world has been de­cid­edly not. Fes­ti­val pa­trons were mostly fe­male and pre­teen, per­haps due to the pres­ence of Glit­ter Slimes, an ASMR star in the sub-genre of slime.

Slimes, aka Ni­co­lette Waltzer, is a for­mer wait­ress who to­day, at 22, has 2.1 mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram and a dozen em­ploy­ees to help cre­ate and ship her cus­tom slime, which her tan­ta­lis­ing videos help sell. She re­leases three videos a day of her un­wrap­ping, pok­ing, mas­sag­ing and stretch­ing her el­e­gant fin­gers in vats of colour­ful, vis­cous goo.

“Peo­ple use it for back­ground mu­sic,” ex­plains Lily Whis­pers, 24. Her face re­mains vis­i­ble in her videos, but it’s all about the voice – the lengthy an­o­dyne mono­logues she shares in an am­pli­fied whis­per, a mes­meris­ing (for some) sonic bath of gen­tle glot­tal stops, vo­cal fry and breath.

She stares at view­ers in th­ese videos with haunting in­ten­sity, but her fans don’t nec­es­sar­ily en­gage with her work as art. “They use it to fo­cus, like wind­ing down for bed, or when they’re hav­ing anx­i­ety at­tacks,” she says.

Many “ASMRtists” like Whis­pers make videos to make peo­ple feel more eu­phoric and less stressed-out on­line – of­ten af­ter spend­ing hours on­line be­com­ing stressed.

Lily Whis­pers mas­sages fab­ric, above, and Glit­ter Slimes kneads slime in their ASMR videos de­signed to pro­voke tin­gles in view­ers.

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