Meet May Waver, the artist and ‘advocate for softness’ channelling the comfort of watching bubble wrap pop in her first UK show
The comfort of watching bubble wrap pop. The trance-like state induced by a sweetly-sung lullaby. A used light pink towel sold on Etsy. Artist and researcher May Waver is a pro at channelling and challenging notions of intimacy with nuance and humour. Her pastel palette and celebration of ‘closeness’ characterise her ASMR videos (sensory recordings that incite pleasurable tingling feelings), GIFs and commodities, creating scenes of tenderness in contexts that are often harsh. As an ‘advocate for softness’, the Minneapolis native has acquired a sizeable following and has now bagged her first UK solo show, Afferent, at Lemonade Gallery. Below, Waver lets us into the workings and ideas behind her work.
How do you get ideas for your ASMR videos? What inspires your choice of texture, materials, and processes?
I tend to combine existing ASMR tropes that I enjoy with my own personal artefacts I find laying around my bedroom and my love of coloured lighting. My process is intuitive and feels like play. Usually I have a general idea of a scenario or image in my head, and just experiment from there. I’m always alone when I’m shooting video because I need the silence, and I work really slowly. For my current ASMR video work at Lemonade Gallery, I shot everything on my phone and webcam with an external stereo microphone.
The dominant themes in your work, like intimacy and technology, are often made fun of and looked down upon by a lot of people – whether that’s finding love through technology or spending a lot of time on your phone. What are your thoughts on the way we frame conversations around our relationship with tech?
Technologies have always shaped the way people communicate and experience intimacy. For example, written language is a technology. Back in the day, Plato was scared that writing would “implant forgetfulness in people’s souls,” making them unable to use their memory. In 2015, he would probably be one of those people who think online dating is destroying our ability to experience love. I’m critical of the tech industry, and its narratives about progress, but on an individual basis I think our relationships with technologies come down to how we chose to engage them.
You, Gabriella Hileman and Violet Forest wrote the Cybertwee Manifesto late last year. Do you think how people view feminine/technology influenced aesthetics has developed or evolved since then?
It’s always been an evolving conversation, and will continue to be. I think our work is in dialogue with a lot of artists who are dealing with similar ideas related to femininities and technologies. But it’s about more than aesthetics. The interplay between what the art femmes are making online is what feels transformative to me. I feel hopeful about the future and I’m inspired by artists like Paula Nacif, Shawné Michaelain Holloway, RAFiA, Ellie Brown & Shanti Moreano.
How has your heightened visibility online affected your self-esteem and perception of your own image?
My self-esteem has always been much more tangled up in my ideas and my ability to articulate what I think than in my image. However, I will say that the way I used to work in self-portraiture, which at one time felt cathartic and empowering, now feels impotent to me.
A lot of your work is Internet based. Why do you think it is important to exhibit in a physical space? How do you think this affects the way your work is consumed?
When anyone views my work, they inhabit some sort of physical space. One of the differences with a gallery show is that I have a degree of control over the look and feel of that space. In my current show at Lemonade, the lighting, the presence of a bed and cosy floor cushions, the lavender scent - all of these spatial choices were really intentional. They function as an extension of the video itself. It was also amazing to see young kids at my show getting into it.
You once said it’s important to advocate for tenderness – especially in light of a culture that "rewards toxic masculinity". What are some ways we can advocate/champion softness and care?
Recognising the value and importance of care work (the burden of which often falls most heavily on women of colour), celebrating a diversity of femininities, being gentle with others and yourself. Honestly just approaching life with a love ethic (thanks bell hooks).
What’s next for you?
I’ve contributed to a book project started by Molly Soda and Sara Sutterlin, which is still in the works. The Cybertwee Virtual Exhibition is also coming up soon, which we curated earlier this year and are continuing to develop. Some of my 2016 artistic goals are to direct a music video, learn some animation skills and … get paid for my labours.
Afferent is open at the Lemonade Gallery until 16 January