The Sound of Temperature rising
Artist Christine Sun Kim on her relationship with sound
The experimental artist plays with the structures of language, notation and humour to depict her connection to sound – and the need for change
A keen observer of language and lover of infographics, angles and pie charts, the California-born and Berlin-based artist has built an acclaimed practice distilling sound into clever new forms and focusing on the role of sound within society. In her works, Kim plays with the musicality of American Sign Language (her first language), music notation, televisual captioning, performance and drawing to investigate her relationship with the aural environment. Adding some strategically deployed humour helps challenge the politics of sound and the role of spoken language as a currency of social exchange.
In The Sound of Temperature Rising
Non-Stop Forever, the focus is on climate change. The alarming graph of elongated musical notes and distinctive text was exhibited on a billboard in downtown Los Angeles in 2020. The piece was created in collaboration with Fine Acts‘ Artists for Countdown, a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis. Backlit by heavy smog – a combination of the usual LA pollution and the lingering smoke from the Bobcat fire that was still burning – it very clearly points to the reality of record temperatures and wildfires.
The drawing is part of a wider series of soundscapes called The Sound Of, in which the artist depicts inner states, such as The Sound of Anticipation, The Sound Of Being Resigned and The Sound of Being Spaced Out – or abstract concepts, like The Sound of Frequencies Attempting to Be Heavy.
Kim’s drawings are deceptively simple because they have layers and layers of technique and personal, political and environmental meaning. By distilling sound to its essential qualities, she addresses the intricacies of social exchange and the power of representation with illuminating wit and candor.
Her projects have been shown at institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Times Square and beyond. The artist is the recipient of an MIT Media Lab Fellowship and a TED Senior Fellowship.
TOPIA chatted to Kim about her heated politics.
I came up with this concept while I was pregnant with my child. It mostly had to do with blood circulation and the metabolism being more active than normal, which caused my body temperature to rise. Then I saw that it can be applied to other situations such as heated politics and climate change. I initially made a drawing but it turned into a mural and was adapted for several places. The concept evolves wherever it shows up. I appreciate this kind of adaptability because it reminds me of how much I often need to adapt and/or code switch around non-Deaf people.
Take us into your creative cosmos. Who are your biggest influences and who do you find exciting today?
Right now, I love nothing more than watching my Deaf peers kicking ass: Actor Lauren Ridloff, artist/model Chella Man, model/producer Nyle DiMarco, writer Sara Nović and many more. They add so much to Deaf representation and I’m a huge believer in making the Deaf community as visible as possible, to impose our existence onto people’s minds. That will leave a lasting impact on what defines norms and normality.
Lastly, we are creating a playlist for TOPIA. What is the last song you’d want to hear during your time here on Earth?