Deaf Artist Creates Sound Installations That Everyone Can Hear
Christine Sun Kim explores the qualities of sounds she is not able to discern in order to make them more inclusive.
As part of our Creative Technology series with iQ by Intel, PSFK is interviewing unique artists to gain insights about how they use technology to enhance creativity and push the boundaries of their art.
Christine Sun Kim is a visual and performance artist who is trying to ‘unlearn’ sound etiquette. As a deaf person, Christine has mostly experienced sound only through the reactions of others, who have exercised a form of control over it as hearing people who can dictate what constitutes acceptable uses of sound. Her art explores technological ways of experiencing sound that do not involve other people, thereby freeing her of any societal constraints, which allows her creative installations to push boundaries and gets people to experience sound in new ways.
Your art investigates the idea of sound ownership. Can you explain what that means?
While growing up, I’ve grown accustomed to the way people behave around sound. I never truly had a chance to question nor even consider the politics of sound. For instance, whenever I feel feedback at a lecture or concert, people would panickingly cover their ears for a short moment. So short that it didn’t occur to me to even think that it doesn’t hurt my ears at all.
I was so enveloped in this kind of behavior that whenever I make a sound, I would become very concerned with people surrounding me because their reactions inform me to the existence of sound. To me, that is their ownership. In my art, I attempt to produce sound without looking at people, that’s one of many ways to place sound under my ownership.
How did you arrive at this form of artistic expression? Did you always have a fascination with sound?
I was a painter for years before I started using sound as my medium. I was never really interested in sound, I think because I grew up in a bubble where the majority of my friends were deaf, including my sister. Discussing music or sound was somewhat a taboo (for lack of a better word, maybe we were simply disinterested or indifferent). But as I got older, I started to have access to technology and saw how convenient it can make communication. That made me more aware of people and things occurring outside my bubble.
One summer I came across galleries that were devoid of objects, just filled with sounds; at first I was frustrated, but after learning the concepts behind them, I appreciated them on some levels. That was the starting point of my curiosity about sound.
How has technology enabled your artistic expression?
If it wasn’t for technology, I wouldn’t be exploring sound. For the first few pieces I did with sound, I only used subwoofers, audio recorders, amplifiers, microphones, and drumheads to vibro-translate from sound to vibration to imprints made of ink or paint. Right away, I recognized the limitations of using low frequencies only, so I shifted the way I approach sound to linguistic authority, spoken/vocal languages, and the social currency they hold.
Even though you don’t experience sound as a auditory experience, can you still sense sound in other ways?
I don’t have a warning system inside my head like everyone else. If I’m surrounded by “uneasy” sounds I won’t notice or avoid, and so often end up with minor psychological effects such as anxiety, nausea, sleep deprivation, and such.
Read more about how Christine perceives and creates sound in the full interview here at iQ by Intel.
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