Art or Sound | Christine Sun Kim’s Ownership of Sound
The artist Chistine Sun Kim (born 1980) capitalises the word “Deaf” to render it into a proper noun and emphasise its “collective cultural identification” and “subjective consciousness” – much like national identity.
Born in Orange County, California to Korean parents, Kim’s experience with sound growing up Deaf relied on observation of others’ body language and facial expressions.
She received an Masters in Fine Arts (MFA) from the School of Visual Arts in 2006, but it wasn’t until later in her artistic practice that she chose to move towards sound.
“I was taught to believe that sound wasn’t part of my life. And I believed it to be true. Yet, I realise now that wasn’t the case at all. Sound was very much part of my life,” she revealed about her progression into the physicality of sound in her 2015 TED talk, “The Enchanting Music of Sign Language” (with over half a million views on YouTube).
“I decided to reclaim ownership of sound and to put it in my art practice.”
In 2013, she received a second MFA in Sound and Music from Bard College, and shortly after graduating, was invited to take part in the show “Soundings” at the Museum of Modern Art New York with four works.
The artist frequently addresses challenges of Deafness with cynical humour, and her meme-style works often travel far and wide on social media.
In 2019, she participated in the Whitney Biennial with the series “Deaf Rage” – infographic-like drawings in charcoal-like that provided insight into her personal moments of anger, including Degrees Of Deaf Rage While Traveling and Degrees Of My Rage In The Art World.
“I can’t afford to be misunderstood. In an infographic, you don’t have to use language to communicate an idea, and I think this is similar to body language and universal happy and sad gestures,” she said in her 2022 conversation with Art Basel, “How I Became An Artist”.
“Both of these connect to my everyday life and how I navigate communication with people who don’t use ASL (American Sign Language).”
Beyond her artistic practice, Kim continues to advocate for accessibility – largely promoting the right to interpreter access for Deaf artists and students in institutional settings like museums and universities.
During the 2020 Super Bowl, she signed ASL performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America The Beautiful” – after which she published an Opinion guest essay for The New York Times condemning Fox Sports’ partial television airing of her performance.
Kim and the designer Ravi Vasavan launched “Deaf Power” – a symbol-based project that promotes cultural pride within the Deaf community.
In 2020, she was awarded the Disability Futures Fellowship from the Ford and Andrew Mellon foundations.
Along with her partner – Thomas Mader, an artist who she occasionally collaborates with – Kim is raising her hearing daughter with what she has dubbed as a “sound diet” – an approach that places balanced attention on communicating with ASL, German Sign Language and German.
Her site-specific mural Time Owes Me Rest Again is on view at Queens Museum in New York until January 2023.
Kim is currently based in Berlin and is represented by White Space in Beijing and François Ghebaly Gallery in Los Angeles/New York.
A SELECTION OF WORKS BY CHRISTINE SUN KIM
‘DEGREES OF MY DEAF RAGE IN THE ART WORLD’ (2018)
Christine Sun Kim, Degrees Of My Deaf Rage In The Art World, 2018. Charcoal and oil pastel on paper, 49 x 49 inches (125 x 125 cm.) Courtesy of the Artist and François Ghebaly Gallery. Photo: Yang Hao.
Part of the series Degrees Of My Deaf Rage In The Art World exhibited at the 2019 Whitney Biennial, this work reveals specific anecdotes of the artist’s encounters across her practice and career.
‘SHIT HEARING PEOPLE SAY TO ME’ (2019)
Christine Sun Kim, Shit Hearing People Say To Me, 2019, Charcoal and oil pastel on paper, 49.25 x 49.25 inches (125 x 125 cm.) Courtesy of the artist and François Ghebaly Gallery. Photo: Peter Harris Studio.
A pie chart in charcoal and oil pastel split into fourteen quasi-even parts, Shit Hearing People Say To Me was on view at the MIT List Visual Arts Centre as part of the solo exhibition “Off the Charts” – inspired by modernist infographics illustrating twentieth-century sociologist and Black rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois's “Data Portraits: Visualising Black America”.
“If I had to choose, I’d rather be blind than dead,” reads one of the chunks.
The work is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
‘CAPTIONING THE CITY’ (2021)
Christine Sun Kim, Captioning The City, Manchester International Festival, Manchester, UK, 2021. Commissioned by Manchester International Festival. Courtesy of the Artist and François Ghebaly Gallery. Photo: Lee Baxter
Included in our 7 Iconics Works of Sound Art to Explore, Captioning The City was a large-scale, citywide campaign with descriptive and poetic captions placed across public spaces in Manchester during the biennial Manchester International Festival – all located in places to be discovered by chance – like [the sound of pigeons searching for crumbs] and [the sound of the zoom life fading away].
‘DEAR ESSENTIAL WORKERS’ (2021)
Christine Sun Kim, Dear Essential Workers, 2020. Commissioned by Times Square Arts, For Freedoms, and Poster House. Courtesy of the artist and François Ghebaly Gallery. Photo: Maria Baranova.
The 2020 public campaign “Messages For The City” by Times Square Arts, Poster House, Print Magazine, and For Freedoms invited over two dozen artists to share messages of gratitude and solidarity across New York’s screens and billboards.
Displayed on rotating displays in Times Square, Kim’s message featured the words “dear essential workers”, plus “thank” and “you” socially distanced from one another with wide spacing in the middle.
‘DEAF TRAUMAS’ (2020)
Christine Sun Kim, Deaf Traumas, 2020. Charcoal on paper, 49.25 x 49.25 inches (125 x 125 cm.) Courtesy of the artist and François Ghebaly Gallery. Photo: Paul Salveson.
Part of the show 2020 solo exhibition “Trauma, LOL” at Francois Ghebaly, “Deaf Traumas” includes twelve smiley faces – each with a varying facial expression – representing different Deaf lived experiences, like the face denoting “Deaf Europe on Deaf USA”.
“I started to feel like, wow, the Deaf community is so complex. There are so many different identities. Everyone has different access to language, access to educational resources,” she revealed in a conversation with Francois Ghebaly’s senior director Gan Uyeda.
‘TIME OWES ME REST AGAIN’ (2022)
Christine Sun Kim, Time Owes Me Rest Again, 2022. Mural, 480 x 1200 inches (1219.2 x 3048 cm.) Installation view, Queens Museum, New York, USA, 2022. Courtesy of the Artist, the Queens Museum, and François Ghebaly Gallery. Photo: Hai Zhang.
On view until January 2023, Time Owes Me Rest Again is a site-specific mural on a 40 x 100-foot wall at Queens Museum, New York.
The words “time”, “owes”, “me”, “rest” and “again” are all spelled out in English, and the motion of their ASL equivalents are represented in the motion made to sign them, bouncing across the space.
According to Queens Museum, the work also reflects on fatigue caused by the pandemic, particularly in the areas neighbouring the museum.
Continue exploring sound art:
- Exploring Carsten Nicolai’s Audiovisual Work
- The Life and Work of Alvin Lucier
- Seeing is Revealing: In Conversation with Emmanuel Van der Auwera
- Global Sound Art Exhibitions
- Iconic Works of Sound Art
- 8 Women in Sound Art
- Sound Artists You Need to Know
- Sonic Art: An Overview
Cover Credit: Joi Ito/Wikimedia Commons
Writer | Bana Bissat
Bana Bissat is a Milan-based writer who reports on sound art for Sound of Life. She has written for Flash Art, Lampoon, and Cultured. @banabissat