Relax, it’s only a video
KIDS THESE DAYS DE-STRESS BY WATCHING AUTONOMOUS SENSORY MERIDIAN RESPONSE VIDEOS. GET THE GOO
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.