In her work, artist Christine Sun Kim engages with how we experience and conceptualize sound. She challenges the notion that sound is a solely auditory experience, foregrounding it as something we sense through multiple dimensions including the visual, physical and political realms.
Kim, whose first language is American Sign Language (ASL), explores and employs elements from various information systems — including graphic and musical notation, body language, and ASL — using these systems to develop her own visual vocabulary in a variety of mediums including performance, drawing, video and more.
Here are four things to expect when seeing Christine Sun Kim: Oh Me Oh My in the Feature Gallery at Remai Modern.
1. Kim’s work challenges our perception of sound
Growing up she was taught how to navigate the hearing world; told when sound is appropriate or not. But what about the sound experience for Deaf people? This thought has played a foundational role in how Kim approached her art.
“When I told my Deaf ex-boyfriend that I wanted to work in sound, he was like, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.’ But it didn’t make me feel bad at all. It was like, ‘If you’re reacting so strongly to this, it means it’s the right path for me to take.'”
—Christine Sun Kim for Art Basel
In the video below with MIT List Visual Arts Center, Kim talks about the concept of sound etiquette, and discusses Lullabies for Roux, an installation piece that features custom-made melodies for her child. This work is on view at Remai Modern.
With over two million views, one of Kim’s most popular appearances was in a TED Talk about how American Sign Language is more closely connected to sound than many realize.
2. Kim channels humour, anger and more through pie charts
Oh Me Oh My includes a number of Kim’s signature pie charts with titles like Why I Work with Sign Language Interpreters and Suggested amount of time for grandmother to play Korean opera on phone for baby. These seemingly objective statistical forms present subjective reflections on lived experience and personal decisions. The hand-drawn charts convey a mix of emotions, allowing viewers to think deeply on the multifaceted nature of her works.
“With the use of notation, and also with more recent works that use pie charts, I want to make myself as clear as possible in my art. 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. Both of these connect to my everyday life and how I navigate communication with people who don’t use ASL. When you’re getting and giving information secondhand your entire life – through interpreters, through writing, through other mediums – it can be messy, and sometimes harmful, and I’m always afraid of being misunderstood.”
—Christine Sun Kim for Art Basel
3. The exhibition features larger-than-life murals
Four large-scale murals will be installed in the museum atrium and Feature Gallery. Spanning the floor to ceiling, these works physically embody the phenomena and histories they convey, and build on strategies of concrete poetry and conceptual sound scores.
At the Museum of Modern Art, where Kim installed The Sound of Temperature Rising, curator Lanka Tattersall discusses the various meanings — “personal, political, and environmental” — that make these works so profound. Watch the video below to learn more.
4. Kim’s work combines art and activism
Kim’s Instagram page is a great place to get an inside look on her activism, impeccable fashion sense, and personal reflections on art and family.
Kim pushes against the ableism that continues to infringe upon Deaf rights. A notable moment came after Kim performed the American national anthem in ASL at the Super Bowl in 2020. She was disappointed to see television networks cut away from her performance, or choose not to air it altogether. Her op-ed for The New York Times spoke to the progress that’s been made by the Deaf community. But she also called attention to the work yet to be done (without putting the onus on affected communities and individuals), whether it’s television networks getting accessibility right, or people teaching their children sign language.
She also developed the Deaf Power symbol with designer Ravi Vasavan, which can be seen online alongside shared resources and educational materials. Visit the Deaf Power site here.
Christine Sun Kim: Oh Me Oh My is on view in the Feature Gallery from September 22, 2022 until January 8, 2023.