The Care Salon installation in the group exhibition 'Blacklisted' at Seoul Art Space Geumcheon was modelled after a typical hair salon blow drying chair. Instead of a dryer, the headpiece is an intimate audio dome that plays a remixed compilation of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) audio, under the titles ‘Caring Friend’ or ‘Supportive Girlfriend’, combined with interviews with ASMRtists based in Seoul, about how they see their work resonating in this cultural context: when work-related stress is high and the political situation is tense, how do Koreans relax and care for themselves?
The first consideration of the work is the automation or standardization of care labour. While many post-work accelerationist political theories—wherein capitalist industries become fully automated and wage labour ceases to exist—are gaining popularity, we ask how this political theory aims to tackle work that is unpaid, reproductive labour, such as childcare, housework or emotional labour?
In ASMR we find an interesting, already thriving online community formed around depersonalized care. The ability to watch a YouTube video, simultaneously providing soothing platitudes and ASMR trigger sounds, and to feel cared for or relaxed, is a step in the direction of the automation of emotional labour. While most ASMRtists don’t consider their practice in this light—they rather see it as a physiological condition of responses to everyday stimuli—we are interested in researching the sociological dimensions of ASMR as depersonalized care and to imagine how it could extend into a future automated ‘care machine,’ which might be a feature in 21st century domotics (smart home technology). By overlaying 6 different ASMR audio clips we aim to show the patterns of standardized care (in this case, for the sick) which peak in a cacophony of uncanny ASMR trigger sounds and end with a series of readymade prescriptions for self-improvement.
The Care Salon also serves as an implicit critique of the use of the feminized voice in already existing smart home and assistive domotic technologies. The ‘Caring Girlfriend’ trope is a popular roleplay in the ASMR community (and beyond) which begs the question of how this technology might be further depersonalized to subvert gender definitions, in the vein of the Xenofeminist politics of alienation.