Christine Sun Kim: Stacking Traumas

January 25, 2021 - January 31, 2022

The California-born, Berlin-based artist Christine Sun Kim (b. 1980) explores concepts of sound, its visual representations, and how it is valued by society, from her perspective as part of the Deaf community. Kim uses performance, video, drawing, writing, and sound installation to uncover the depth and complexity of communication, including the politics of voice, listening, and language—questioning the implicit authority of spoken over signed language and the notion that sound is inextricably tied to hearing. She employs American Sign Language, musical notation, televisual captioning, and other systems of visual communication in her wide-ranging practice that addresses the intricacies of social exchange and the power of representation with frank wit and intelligence.

At the Kemper Art Museum Kim will produce a site-specific mural in the Museum’s atrium. Adapted from a drawing, the mural explores ongoing sources of traumatic experience and struggle for members of the Deaf community. In the drawing Kim stacked three tables, one on top of another, each delineating a different point of trauma. The bottom table denotes “dinner table syndrome,” the feeling of frustration that grows out of being surrounded during social events by non-signing hearing people. The dinner table, a popular symbol of family life and bonding, often represents not being part of the conversation and inaccessibility to Deaf people, especially if, as children, their families never learned a signed language to communicate with them. The middle table in the drawing represents “hearing people anxiety,” a sense of worry and inferiority triggered by language difference and cultural tensions imposed by hearing people. Kim positions at the very top the detrimental legacy left on the education of Deaf people by the scientist, inventor, and eugenicist Alexander Graham Bell, who vociferously opposed sign language. The stacked tables double as monumentally elongated musical notes. The extended character of her lines also references the format of the musical staff. The overall work conveys Kim’s diagrammatic interpretation of states of emotion while showing the many layers of connection among these traumatic concepts. Both personal and political, her mural deftly calls attention to the frustrations, obstacles, and stigmas attached to deafness while also promoting awareness and acceptance.

Exhibition support

Support is provided by the William T. Kemper Foundation and the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

About the artist

Christine Sun Kim was born in 1980 in Orange County, California, and currently lives and works in Berlin. She earned an MFA in sound and music at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, in 2013. Kim has had numerous solo exhibitions, including Another Day Rising into Being, Deutsche Oper, Berlin (2020); Christine Sun Kim: Off the Charts, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts (2020); 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, UK (2015). Her public art installation Too Much Future (2018) was commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Recent group exhibitions include Magical Soup, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2020); We Fight to Build a Free World, Jewish Museum, New York (2020); Resonance: A Sound Art Marathon, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2019); the Whitney Biennial (2019); Soundtracks, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2017); and Resonant Spaces, Hood Museum, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire (2017). She has received numerous grants and awards, including a Disability Future Fellowship through the Ford Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2020). Kim is represented by François Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles, and White Space Beijing.

Image credit

Christine Sun Kim, The Sound of Obsessing, installation view, MIT Media Lab, 2020. Peter Harris Studio for MIT List Visual Arts Center and MIT Media Lab.