On Exhibit: Layered language and sound front and center at the Tang

A large art gallery room

Installation view of “Christine Sun Kim: Oh Me Oh My” at the Tang Museum.

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Language in all its messy layers is front and center in the latest exhibit to open at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College.

Called “Christine Sun Kim: Oh Me Oh My,” and featuring a mix of drawings, video and sound installations, it posits that sound is more than an auditory experience. Kim, a Berlin-based artist whose first language is American Sign Language (ASL), portrays sound as a visual, physical and political experience.

In a series of charcoal drawings, the artist plays with infographics, using a pie chart structure to reflect personal decisions and observations. In one piece, the question “Why I work with sign language interpreters,” is written above the chart, with “The majority of people don’t know sign language” taking up the largest portion, and “They make me look more human” taking up another smaller portion.

In another, called “Why Most of My Hearing Friends Do Not Sign,” some of the slices read “Never occurred to them that they can learn” or “They’re too dependent on sign language interpreters.” The largest slice gives the disappointing answer: “They assume I’m 100% OK with this.” The answers are all handwritten, with some of the words smudged or crossed out.

Not too far away is a series on “English vs. Deaf English,” featuring a series of lists comparing the two. One juxtaposes the phrase “Sorry not sorry” to “Sorry zero,” and another compares “can’t see a thing” to “see zero.” The works point to the intricacies of interpretation and the gaps in meaning that can occur when words are translated from one language to another. 

Further on is an immersive sound installation, with seven pairs of headphones, each playing different tracks, from beautiful, crisp melodies to the rustle of footsteps coupled with the sounds of insects chirping and trilling. Titled “One Week of Lullabies for Roux,” the installation features tracks created by Kim’s friends for her daughter as alternatives to the lullabies that were pre-programmed into the baby monitor.

The artist also connects musical notations with ALS gloss, which are words used to represent signs. In the sweeping mural “The Sound of Temperature Rising,” Kim draws half notes and quarter notes, connecting them with a curved music staff.

The contemplative and at times humorous exhibition is the first full-scale solo museum exhibition in North America of Kim’s work. However, some may already be familiar with the artist since her performance at the Super Bowl in 2020, when she signed “America the Beautiful,” or from her 2015 TED Talk “The Enchanting Music of Sign Language.”

Kim will give an artist’s talk at 4 p.m. Saturday, discussing her work within the context of systems of visual communication, including ASL, musical notation, infographics, televisual captioning and more. The program will include ASL interpretation.

Shortly before that, at 2 p.m., the museum will host “Family Saturday: Signed Sculptures,” a program suitable for children 5 and older accompanied by an adult. It includes a viewing of the exhibition, followed by an activity that will have kids making construction-paper cutouts of their hands to create ASL-inspired sculptures.

“Christine Sun Kim: Oh Me Oh My” features 40 pieces created in the past 10 years and was organized by the Tang, as well as the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, Remai Modern, Saskatoon and the Gund Gallery at Kenyon College. It’ll be on view at the Tang through July 16. For more information visit tang.skidmore.edu.

Categories: Art, Life and Arts

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