Could exhibitions enhance our experience of reality?

Perhaps, we should look at the latest trends in the creative world to answer this question. In fact, experience-driven shows are bringing the reality of exhibitions to a new dimension. This fresh approach adopts the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response as a key driving factor in the design of new displays. 

When I was first presented with this concept at the last winter UKRG event, the novelist Marcel Proust came to mind. Perhaps, we are all familiar with the so-called Proust effect, suggesting an intimate connection between memory and smell. According to this theory an olfactory experience evokes specific feelings associated with a memory and this is all prompted by a particular odour. As a result of this, scent, memory, and emotion seem to be deeply intertwined. However, the point here is that this effect can apply to all our four senses, not just smell, and ASMR are experiences that indeed suggest the existence of a link between the objective and the subjective.

ASMR is understood to be a spontaneous heightened sensation that is triggered by an external or internal experience; for this reason, it could be considered as a sort of euphoria-like sensation, a way of processing reality that is extremely personal and that brings out the hidden connection between the subconscious and the empirical. To this end, exhibitions are introducing ASMRs into their design through a series of visual, auditory, and tactile works. The aim is to elicit physical sensations and evoke different feelings or memories by direct unconscious association. These elusive perceptions are the result of neurological activations. By this, visitors start a journey of discovery where they can learn unusual responses to seemingly conventional sounds, images, and textures. The exhibition space is transformed into an immersive experience where sensorial reactions can awake multiple emotions. In fact, stimuli to our senses open a door to a whirlwind of moods and sensorial responses that are by nature involuntary, subjective, and introspective.

With this in mind, it becomes easy to understand why museums and galleries should embrace ASMR – oriented exhibitions as an innovative and educative alternative to traditional shows. ASMR exhibits are purposedly designed to make visitors feel a certain way, with the intent and hope of offering a holistic and multi-sensorial experience to their visitors who therefore, become an active part of the space and could be referred to as users. As a result, exhibitions can be more accessible, inclusive, therapeutic, educative, and fun. In a society where technology is ever more blurring the line between physical ad virtual reality and changing the way we interact with the physical space, ASMR can be a wakeup call for our senses, bringing us closer to the physical world, reminding us that we are sentient beings and that we exist because we feel.

Chiara Montani 

Assistant Registrar (Loans)

National Galleries of Scotland