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Deaf artist explores social dimensions of sound

January 30, 2015

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Christine Sun Kim, a sound artist who has been deaf since birth, is creating installations that explore our relationship to sound.

One of Kim’s pieces invites people to interact with sound vibrations along piano strings, while others show visual representations of what sound means to her.

In her work “All. Day.” which appeared at the Museum of Modern Art, Kim drew the arc that her arm would create to say “all day” in American Sign Language. The piece also shows a rest bar alongside the number 126,144,000, symbolizing the number of rest bars in Kim’s 32 years of life at the time she created the piece.

Kim’s art deconstructs the social norms surrounding sound and noise. From a young age, she was attuned to the social rules about creating noise and staying silent; now, her focus is on “unlearning sound etiquette.”

“Now I am freeing myself from what I’ve been taught my whole life,” Kim said via her sign language interpreter Mia Pennywell. “I look at sound from a new perspective that is my own, and discover what sounds I like and why I like them.”

Kim’s relationship to sound is always changing, an evolution that reflects in her work.

“It is about my curiosity. It is about finding out how sound affects things. It is about my own closeness and intimacy with the sounds I explore,” Kim said.


Warm up questions
  1. What does it mean to be an artist?
  2. What ways can you experience sound apart from hearing it?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How does Kim view her experience with sound? How does she describe it?
  2. Why do you think Kim, as a deaf artist, chose to use the medium of sound for her work? What challenges does she face in creating work that uses sound?
  3. How does your school accommodate individuals with physical disabilities?

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