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The internet gave me brain tingles (a brief history of ASMR)

Multi-channel video installation, LED lighting and book

25 minutes

2017 - 2020

Exhibited at De Montfort University Degree Show 2018

Awarded Two Queens Graduate Prize

The internet gave me brain tingles (a brief history of ASMR) is an installation consisting of multiple screens, appropriated video, graphics, and a book. It is lit with a bask of blue LED lighting that mirrors the blue colour used in computer and mobile phone screens. On a small screen, the titles of the presented videos and their creator’s names appear. 

ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, refers to the physical sensation often likened to synaesthesia experienced by some people in response to external sensory triggers. The sensation is most often characterised by a tingling sensation in the neck and spine, followed by a state of calmness and well-being. The sensation is a real, physical thing, a sensation on the skin and in the body triggered haptically, sonically or visually, but despite its innate physical presence, it has found its home in the digital realm. 

The films presented consist of appropriated videos created by the expansive ASMR community in which the ASMRtists use techniques described as “triggers” (eg. whispering, tapping, hair brushing, roleplaying) specifically to evoke the response in the viewer. Each video presented is an example of a different category of ASMR. The phenomenon is likened to a type of audio synaesthesia, as not all people experience the response; some people exhibit no response whereas others intensely dislike the sounds. The sounds and images ebb and flow in tone, volume, and landscape, each jutting up against each other and talking over one another, creating new narratives and allowing new themes and focuses to emerge. 

ASMR videos are shared online by people of all ages and nationalities, with a community of thousands of channels receiving millions of views. And yet, the community remains online and somewhat secret, something that people stumble upon on the ‘weird side of YouTube’. There is a lot of misunderstanding around ASMR. Though ASMR videos are not sexual, many people and news outlets are quick to dismiss ASMR videos as sexual and fetishistic. The videos are characterised by the use of close proximity audio recording and direct address, creating a sense of intimacy between viewer and creator. The videos are created purely for sensory enjoyment, so there is a link between ASMR derived relaxation and sexual arousal in this sense, but to dismiss all of ASMR as sexual is incorrect and problematic, particularly when taking into account the age range of those making the videos.

The installation encourages the viewer to engage with it however they choose. The pathway through the space is ambiguous, meaning the viewer does not take a predetermined route through the space; instead, they are driven by their response to the sounds and images presented. The book is presented as a source of information, official and educational on its lone plinth. It can remain closed, or it can be opened and the viewer can choose to learn more. We react to a sensory source on a primal level (the immediate gut reaction response) and on a more reflective level once we understand the context. In the gallery, these videos have no context. Therefore, the viewer must seek out further information to fully understand. The positioning of this educational resource is reflective of the way in which we approach things we do not necessarily understand: we engage or we dismiss. 

‘The internet gave me brain tingles and other stories about satisfaction - a brief history of ASMR’ is an exploratory essay into the online world of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) by artist Courtney Askey. The essay examines the effect of ASMR and our relationship with the ASMRtists sharing it with us. Bridging the gap between the physical and the cyber landscape it inhabits, ASMR is the human interaction we are seeking in today's world. 

“In a time where explorations of ASMR are largely split between lo-tec YouTube videos recorded by teenagers, and jargon-filed neuroscientific academic papers, Courtney Askey’s 'The Internet gave me brain tingles' provides a much needed bridge between the two. By both attending to the individual experience of ASMR, and providing insight into its place in society, Askey has created a book which is both informative and enjoyable; as much a work of art as an academic study.” 

Edition 2 of The internet gave me brain tingles coming soon

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