Christine Sun Kim: Off the Charts

May 8, 2020 - August 16, 2020
Garen Gallery

The California-born, Berlin-based artist Christine Sun Kim (b. 1980) creates transgressive textual drawings, videos, and performances that explore concepts of sound and spoken language from her perspective as a deaf woman, artist, mother, and partner. Kim presents the sonic as a multisensory, socially determined phenomenon, one that does not have to only be heard, but can be felt, seen, and experienced as an idea. Much of her work is centered on uncovering the depth and complexity of communication, including the politics of voice, listening, and language.

Off the Charts features a new series of pie chart drawings through which Kim explores her Deaf identity (she prefers to capitalize the word “deaf” to denote a cultural group). These economic, deadpan compositions visualize her sometimes frustrating interactions with hearing people. In the drawing Shit Hearing People Say to Me (2018), a pie segment reads, “You are so inspiring. I’m sad you can’t hear.” In another, Why My Hearing Parents Sign (2018), a segment reads, “To make sure I feel loved.” In other examples Kim breaks down by their relative importance the factors that have informed personal decisions she has made, including Why I Do Not Read Lips and Why I Work with Sign Language Interpreters. Simultaneously humorous and profound, these diagrammatic works pivot on the absurdity of communicating complex choices and their cultural, social, and historical underpinnings.

Kim’s seven-channel sound piece One Week of Lullabies for Roux (2018) is also on view in the exhibition. With the birth of her hearing daughter in 2018, Kim and her partner, who is German and hearing, needed to figure out language use at home. She came up with the idea of a “sound diet” for her child, who is raised trilingually in American Sign Language (ASL), German Sign Language (DGS), and German. Kim’s concept of a well-balanced “sound diet” aims to place equal weight on all three, ensuring that Deaf culture and ASL are as relevant as a person’s socialization in a hearing-dominant society. For this sound piece the artist commissioned a group of friends to create lullabies for her daughter following a series of preset rules in keeping with the established “sound diet.” Instructions included omitting lyrics and speech and focusing on low frequencies to convey the soothing aspect of these tunes as well as to sensitize her experience of sound. The work draws heightened awareness to our daily auditory consumption and the relative social currency of visual versus spoken language.

Christine Sun Kim: Off the Charts is organized by Henriette Huldisch, chief curator and director of curatorial affairs, Walker Art Center (former director of exhibitions and curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center). Its presentation at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is curated by Meredith Malone, associate curator.

Exhibition Support

Exhibitions at the MIT List Visual Arts Center are made possible with the support of Fotene & Tom Coté, Audrey & James Foster, Idee German Schoenheimer, Joyce Linde, Cynthia & John Reed, and Terry & Rick Stone. In-kind media sponsorship provided by 90.9 WBUR.

General operating support is provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Council for the Arts at MIT; Philip S. Khoury, Associate Provost at MIT; the MIT School of Architecture + Planning; the Mass Cultural Council; and many generous individual donors. The Advisory Committee Members of the List Visual Arts Center are gratefully acknowledged.

Support for the exhibition at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is provided by the William T. Kemper Foundation and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.

About the Artist

Christine Sun Kim was born in 1980 in Orange County, California, and currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany. She earned an MFA in Sound and Music at Bard College, Annandale on Hudson, New York, in 2013 and holds degrees from the Rochester Institute of Technology and the School of Visual Arts, New York. Kim has had numerous solo exhibitions, including Lautplan, Art Institute of Chicago (2018); Busy Days, De Appel Arts Centre, Amsterdam (2017); and Almost a Score and Sound as a Dollar, Arnolfini, Bristol, United Kingdom (2015). Her public art installation Too Much Future (2018) was commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Recent group exhibitions include Resonance: A Sound Art Marathon, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2019); the Whitney Biennial, New York (2019); Soundtracks, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2017); and Resonant Spaces, Hood Museum, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire (2017). Kim is the recipient of a MIT Media Lab Fellowship and TED Senior Fellowship, and she has presented at numerous conferences and symposia.

Image credit

Christine Sun Kim, One Week of Lullabies for Roux, 2018. Seven-channel audio, 9'45" & 11'11", 3'22", 1'36", 10'02", 29", 7'50", 5'02". Installation view, Art Basel 2018, Basel, Switzerland, June 14-17, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and WHITE SPACE BEIJING.