The current exhibition at Somerset House, ‘Christine Sun Kim: Edges of Sign Language’, displays how Christine’s contemporary practice interrogates the roles of space, sound, language and shape in our society. In a small room, one finds different shaped unpainted canvases hung on the walls. They are rounded, smooth, and almost moving which, for their uniqueness, immediately suggest some kind of confrontation to the viewer.
Christine’s practice began with painting and later developed across other mediums, from drawing, video, installation and performances. While the oddly shaped blank canvases in ‘Edges of Sign Language’ reference painting, the exhibition works more like an installation or performance where the canvases perform many roles: they absorb the mood of the room, its surrounding sound, while also represent a lack of it, and evoke how communication can occur through shape and movement.
Christine’s work reflects her journey of creating representations of her relationship with sound and the environment, in ways that resonate with her. Now, she uses her practice to strongly confront societies values, placement, and adoption of sound, and brings viewers to consider the role different senses play in their life and beyond.
In her 2015 Ted Talk, Christine articulated how, when she was younger “as a deaf person living in a world of sound” it was as if she was “living in a foreign country, blindly following its rules, customs, behaviours and norms without ever questioning them.” It was only when she enrolled in an MFA in music and sound at Bard College in Hudson Valley that she confronted her younger self’s mentality and embraced her interest in the crucial role of sound in society. For example, she found similarities between music and ASL (American Sign Language), in the way that neither can be fully captured on paper, and that they are both highly sensitive to changes that can affect their whole meaning. From here she began to foreground sound and communication as the subjects of her work, for example, focusing on the representation of mundane concepts like “the sound of laziness” or “the sound of temperature rising” in new ways.
Today, her work couldn’t be louder. Often combining it with engaging activities, activism, and public speaking, she explores how sound exists as a social currency in our world in ways that that often go unnoticed. Perhaps the apparent minimalist aesthetic of the work on display at Somerset House plays on this by requiring the physical presence of different kinds of people and senses to be activated.
Many reactions may be had to the work but, fundamentally, it is Christine’s meaningful ability to make us think about the many relationships with sound that exist through visual means that is truly unique and striking.
All quotes from Christine Sun Kim’s Ted Talk ‘The enchanting music of sign language’ (2015). https://www.ted.com/talks/christine_sun_kim_the_enchanting_music_of_sign_language
Image: Christine Sun Kim’s All Day All Night, Photo credit Reinis Lismanis
Review by Michela Giachino
Since studying History of Art at The University of Oxford Michela has continued to pursue her interests in art and culture. She particularly enjoys considering how contemporary and historical art forms are presented to the wider public through exhibitions and viewings at art institutions. Michela’s favourite mediums include photography, film, painting and drawing, and she is always excited to learn about new art.
Read Michela’s latest review here Review: Gogosian-Rites of Passage-‘Passages as natural flux’-Britannia Street, London, until 29 April – Abundant Art
Edges of Sign Language is commissioned by Somerset House in collaboration with Goethe-Institut London as part of Hyper Functional, Ultra Healthy, a dynamic series that considers individual and collective health and wellbeing through a programme of newly commissioned artworks, films, workshops, and conversations.
For more information visit Christine Sun Kim: Edges of Sign Language | Somerset House