Exhibition

Christine Sun Kim: Stacking Traumas

January 25, 2021 - January 31, 2022
Atrium

The California-born, Berlin-based artist Christine Sun Kim (b. 1980) explores concepts of sound, its visual representations, and how it is valued in society from her perspective as part of the Deaf community. Rooted in such visual communication systems as musical notation, televisual captioning, infographics, and American Sign Language (ASL), Kim’s work explores a broad conceptual terrain, from questioning the implicit authority of spoken over signed language, to considering the traumatic encounters, systemic marginalization, and impact of casual ignorance inflicted upon the Deaf community.

In this site-specific mural, Stacking Traumas (2021), Kim identifies three sources of traumatic experience, represented by three tables stacked on top of one another. The bottom table denotes “dinner table syndrome,” the feeling of frustration that grows out of being surrounded by non-signing hearing people at social events. The dinner table—a symbol of family life and bonding—often represents inaccessibility to Deaf people, especially for children whose family members never learned to sign. The middle table represents “hearing people anxiety,” a sense of worry and inferiority triggered by language difference and cultural tensions imposed by hearing people. The top table, positioned high up the Kemper Art Museum’s tall, curved atrium wall, presents the name of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor, scientist, and eugenicist who vociferously opposed teaching sign language to Deaf children. As the artist describes it, his name literally looms over the heads of visitors, giving volume to a specter that continues to affect the lives of Deaf people.

The stacked tables double as monumentally elongated musical notes, and the extended character of the lines references the format of the musical staff. The overall work conveys the artist’s diagrammatic interpretation of states of emotion while showing the cumulative layers of connection among these traumatic concepts. Both personal and political, Kim’s mural deftly calls attention to the frustrations, obstacles, and stigmas attached to deafness while also promoting awareness and accountability.

Exhibition support

Support for the installation is provided by the William T. Kemper Foundation and the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency. The mural was installed by Scott Pondrom. It appears courtesy of the artist; François Ghebaly, Los Angeles; and White Space, Beijing.

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

Installation view of Christine Sun Kim: Stacking Traumas at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, 2021–22. Courtesy of the artist; François Ghebaly, Los Angeles; and White Space, Beijing. © Christine Sun Kim. Photo by Alise O’Brien Photography.

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