The Racial Haptics of ASMR: @breadfaceblog and the Curation of Instagram

Ali Na


This article unpacks social media and curated art through the unlikely performance of smashing one’s face into bread. I focus on the shift of @breadfaceblog from social media to installation at the 2019 Seattle Art Fair, arguing that performance studies in the post-pandemic world must attend to the division between art and digital culture as well as intersectional anti-colonial matters. The performance of @breadfaceblog erodes the distinction between everyday digital makers and contemporary artists. Breadface is an Instagram content maker, whose followers are largely from the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) community. ASMR is a vital site of analysis for performance studies in digital media, as it is about fleeting sensorial experience, unexpected responsiveness, and a deep relationship between the performance and its temporally-bound audience. This description might seem a stretch for an Internet phenomenon dismissively characterized as opening chip bags on camera, but I want to suggest that sustained attention to ASMR videos opens up the shared experiences between digital culture and art installation. In particular, Breadface enacts how performance reconfigures the cultural politics of loneliness, intimacy, and shared counter/publics. Second, @breadfaceblog draws our attention through performance to the ways in which haptic experiential affects do not escape racialized and sexualized preconceptions. It is vital to approach Breadface’s fans through an Asian/American feminist approach in order to express how her fetishization is actualized through a long history of Asian and Asian American women performing hypersexualization in North America. Breadface’s Art Fair installation marks a validation that necessitates a discussion of self-curation and the continued colonial practices of formal art institutions. This article contributes to the broader ongoing work in performance studies that seeks to engage with digitally mediated performance and to describe and historicize the modes of neo-colonial racial and gendered subordination.  

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