The artist creates intimate online spaces that remind us that softness is powerful.
May Waver's art may live online, but she's not an internet artist. Her practise, and its implications, are very real. In selling sheets and pyjamas she'd slept in on Etsy, May critiqued the trope of portraying intimacy as a marketable commodity. From singing lullabies over the web to making ASMR compilations (sounds designed to incite a sensory response, like tingles down the spine) May's practise questions notions of 'real' intimacy, finding power in tender moments online and off. Having just wrapped up her degree, we chatted with May about her practise, her online life and what's next.
i-D: Congratulations on finishing your degree! What did you study?
May: Thank you! I double-majored in 'health and society,' which is an interdisciplinary public health degree, and 'studio art.'
I had assumed you studied straight fine art! How did the health studies inform your art?
I think the way public health is a field concerned with bodies, societies, human behavior, emotions, belief systems - these are all interests that drive me to make art. In my senior year I finally felt like I was in the perfect mix of classes to explore that interplay. For example I was learning about physiological psychology while making ASMR videos.
I was just about to say how much I love your ASMR videos. Can you tell me more about them?
Watching ASMR videos makes me so happy. I love the genre because it's just people sitting in their rooms sharing home-made videos to stimulate pleasant/satisfying/comforting feelings for each other. I know for a lot of people it's a really effective remedy for anxiety or insomnia. It's cool that creating something so simple on the internet could be such a positive resource. furthermore I think ASMR is a really interesting example of the physicality of the so-called virtual world. while experiencing a really good ASMR video I can feel tingles in my body like I'm being touched. Something that people ask me about frequently is the undeniable relationship between ASMR and porn.
That's really interesting. Why is that? Because it makes 'intimacy' accessible?
I think that's part of the thought process. I mean, in the words of Ann Hirsch, "whenever you put your body online, in some way you are in conversation with porn..." but ASMR connects especially well because you're watching someone perform in order to feel some sort of sensation. It's sensual. But in my opinion, ASMR deviates from porn in its intentions, and in the power dynamics at play. I think creating an ASMR video can be quite subversive as an act of care. I would also argue that most porn isn't about, doesn't resemble, real intimacy.
Of course. Going back to your explanation of ASMR's appeal - I'm obsessed with make-up vloggers for really similar reasons. Do you have any other pleasures or relaxing spaces online?
There's one ASMR video I'm obsessed with that doubles as a make-up removal and self-love pep talk from this awesome girl. I'm really into those videos on youtube that I've loosely termed "relaxation content" - videos like "10 straight hours of rainfall." My favourite is a really long audio recording of sounds from inside a mother's womb. They make amazing sonic backgrounds for other activities like browsing the web or sleeping.
I was just thinking, I love make-up YouTubers for many of the same reasons that I love your work. The focus is on making private feminine acts and feelings public, and in doing so, exposing their strength.
That's a huge theme for me. This culture rewards toxic masculinity, the ability to be cold and aggressive and machine-like. I think it's important to advocate for tenderness, to advocate for softness as a legitimate and powerful alternative to hardening in the face of society's bullshit. It's self-indulgent, but for me it's also an important political practice - listening to people when they're voicing their burdens, being compassionate toward others. Even if you don't identify as femme, or don't get down with a "girly" visual style, this is something everyone can do.
There was this phrase on your twitter that really stuck with me the other day: "I have no interest in making rare objects." I like that a lot of your work lives online. Do you feel comfortable being called an 'internet artist', or is there something preferable?
In 2015 'internet artist' sounds naive to me - we have to think beyond the IRL-URL binary. I usually call myself an interdisciplinary artist. It's vague, but that term makes room for the variety of media and approaches I use.
That's true. I think that a lot of your work feels special because it's best engaged with from the home, or more specifically, the bedroom.
It's great to hear you say that, because that's definitely my intent. The context in which art is viewed or experienced affects its meaning - who is it accessible to? Is it a noisy community event or a quiet contemplative meditation? I'm not making a value judgement, only saying that I prefer the latter.
It can be really difficult to publicly express the softness and tenderness you talk about, so I think privileging private spaces is important.
And I think it speaks to the way a lot of people spend their time - solitary with their phone or laptop for company.
I feel like we're referencing a lot of the ideas your cybertwee manifesto covers. Can you tell me a lil bit about that?
Definitely. the term cybertwee was coined by Gabriella Hileman, and in the fall of 2014, she, Violet Forest, and I met up to write this declaration of what it's about. The central idea is that in our current "digital moment," sweetness is not weak or frivolous, but rather an important tool for surviving and thriving. It's a foil to the legacy of cyberpunk and male-dominated tech culture. Cybertwee is a concept or practice that can materialise through art, fashion, music, a personal politic. It's flexible and queer and cute and clever.
What are you working on right now?
Well, speaking of cybertwee, Gabriella, Violet, and I are making plans for a cybertwee virtual art exhibition later this summer. Keep an eye out for our open call for works - we want the show to feature a wide range of representations and interpretations of the genre. I'm also working on this project called "audioselfies" with friend and fellow artist Silvia Abelson. It's still just getting off the ground, but we've got a lot of amazing submissions already and we're very excited for the future of the project.
Text Isabelle Hellyer