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A Spoken-Word Brain Massage

February 23, 2016

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Agnieszka Polska, still from “I Am the Mouth,” 2014; courtesy of ŻAK | BRANICKA, Berlin

A Spoken-Word Brain Massage

Gently glowing, a pair of lips floats half-submerged in a pool of water and whispers “I am the mouth that produces waves.” In her video work “I Am the Mouth” (2014), Agnieszka Polska examines the juncture of the disembodied sound and image and the embodied physical response. The materialization of language is a recurring theme explored by the Polish artist, whose work is on view through March 12, 2017, in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s “Suspended Animation,” an exhibition of digital animation by emerging artists.

Some viewers have experienced a sense of mild euphoria viewing images similar to Polska’s. This phenomenon, known as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), often produces tingling in the scalp that spreads to the neck and limbs, in addition to a slight neurochemical high that improves mood with no apparent ill effects.

Little research has been done on ASMR, but anecdotal evidence describes delicate sounds such as whispering voices, trickling water, ice tinkling in a cocktail glass or a pencil scratching on paper as common triggers of the eerie effect.