Ingrid Luquet-Gad, The Artwork Senses, Les Inrockuptibles, 2021

In collaboration with ASMR creator BehindTheMoons, the artist CAROLINE DELIEUTRAZ explores a new exhibition format and brings together, in the form of a Youtube video, six artists or artist duos whose works are activated by touch.

The atmosphere is tinged with a more pleasant forest green than the frank green background that has become synonymous with life on screen, its video inlays and its synthetic flesh. The framing is in bust, tightened on the protagonist: a young woman all smiles, headphones on the ears, white eyeliner vaguely new age. The video presentation, which will last about forty minutes, divided into subsections, can begin. “Today, a soft voice whispers to us – we will have to listen to it with headphones, the description explains, I will try to relax you with the help of artworks”.

We are on the Youtube channel of BehindTheMoons, a pseudonym that, despite its nearly 60 thousand subscribers, will certainly not say much to art lovers. In another community, however, she is a key figure: the one called ASMR, for “Autonomous Sensory Meridien Response”, a term that, for the past few years, has been at the top of video searches.
The trend was born after the unexpected success of a short video of whispers published in 2009 on Youtube. Since then, relaxing or stimulating content, resulting from the on-screen activation of a material, often accompanied by a commentary or a story, has become a genre in itself.

The production of a sensory effect on the receiver has established and ascending figures, just as it is codified by a set of specialized, often English-speaking, terms: “tapping” or “tracing” – the activity of tapping or following an outline with the finger; “sticky fingers” or “squishy toys” – the sound produced by sticking fingers or squeaking gadgets. Now, if the similarities with these other triggers of affects that are the works of art, which also reach us mediated by codes, a community, a lexical field, are potentially identifiable, nothing predisposed them to enter in effective contact.

Nothing, except the attention paid by artist Caroline Delieutraz to internet communities, from which was born, in 2017, a first video, Unboxing + Tapping + Whisper with Rikita ASMR (Embedded Files). Now, the artist has come back with a project of greater magnitude. It will be “Let me relax you by touching works of art”, in collaboration with BehindTheMoons; that is to say a collective exhibition in the form of ASMR videos, gathering the works of six artists or duos of artists – Émilie Brout & Maxime Marion; Fabien Mousse, artist invented by Raphaël Bastide; Caroline Delieutraz in collaboration with Vincent Kimyon, Carin Klonowski; Gwendal Coulon; Claire Williams.

All the works have in common that they address our relationship to the virtual; most of them have already been presented in exhibitions, but here they will be manipulated, touched and experienced according to another criterion: “Trying to find pleasant sounds with these works”, as expressed by the ASMR creator in her introduction. For each of the pieces entrusted to her by Caroline Delieutraz, whether in volume or on paper, the content creator details the label and the technical information, while giving a short recontextualization of the intentions of each of the artists, before testing their potential according to the techniques of her discipline.

In itself, it is a critical gesture, reconducted according to other criteria: for example, Émilie Brout and Maxime Marion’s broken screen with concentric breaks (Return of the Brocken Screens, 2015) is “visually already a work (… ) relaxing”, while Fabien Mousse’s silkscreened foam computer (Real Internet Art, 2012) is “really nice to handle”; conversely, Gwendal Coulon’s watercolors on silk paper (Everyday I love followers, 2020) are more devious because of their “difficult to master” material. For Caroline Delieutraz, the format, co-produced with Studio 13/16 of the Centre Pompidou, diverts the prohibition of touching the works and moves towards a “way as strange as new” to put “the body and physical sensations at the heart of the experience of art”. While a certain number of exhibitions have turned to telephone visits to catch the attention blunted by the proliferation of purely visual contents, this format marks an in-between, escaping as much from the articulated language to take it towards its power of suggestion and the phatic function, which is lacking when the usual social interactions are replaced by the individual consumption of contents. If it is true that “the subjects of neoliberal technopatriarchal societies (…) have no skin; are untouchable; have no hands” as philosopher Paul B. Preciado noticed in an essay published last year in the May/June 2020 issue of Artforum magazine, Let me relax you by touching works of art can also be received as a broader social commentary.

This is what happens to the false promises of immediate and unlimited access to everything conveyed by digital technologies, and to the impoverishment of a reality overexposed in an almost pornographic way, here deconstructed in the long time of an exploration which is not so much a description aiming at capturing its object in order to possess it as a slow polysensorial eroticism demultiplying its layers of mystery as much as its darker side.