Deaf from birth, Christine Sun Kim is an artist who thinks a lot about sound. Having received an MFA in Music and Sound at Bard College, Kim’s art explores the oft-neglected visual and conceptual valences of sonic phenomena. In her latest solo show ‘Rustle Tustle’ at Carroll/Fletcher, Kim jumbles up words, images and sounds, forging signals from the noise.
Three groupings of charcoal and pastel drawings set a tone for the show that is playful, inquisitive and polyphonic. Making nods to the conventions of music and American Sign Language, the drawings generate an idiosyncratic system of visual notation. In ‘Futures Going Hard at It’, a row of curvy ‘f’s hovering at the bottom of the paper are led across the white expanse by lines that soar past the top ledge; the charcoal lines are bold and firm, periodically coming to a thickened pause before getting back to the going. Each sheet of paper serves as a temporal-spatial backdrop, in which actions unfold across the rectangle through moving lines - sometimes quick and smooth, other times sluggish and clumsy; these lines also extend into white space, smudging outward, leaping across and turning around on themselves.
In these works, sonic duration and presence are expressed through visual logic, lending sound new modes of signification. In ‘My Voice Goes on a Break Every 20 Minutes’, paired beam notes line up shoulder to shoulder across the page, reserving a short break in between. In the same humorous key, ‘My Inner Bartesque Voice’ illustrates two notes attached at the top by a zig-zagging beam, a motif appropriated from Bart Simpson’s iconic ‘do. For Kim, mark-making becomes an alternative mode of using her “voice,” which is not heard but nevertheless present in these drawings to be beheld.
Audience participation has constituted a key part of Kim’s multidisciplinary practice. In this show, three Velcro strips stretched across the front gallery turn out to be the set-up for ‘Game of Skill 1.0’, which winkingly extends a challenge to visitors. Using a handheld device, the participant must trace its antenna along the Velcro path to trigger sound from the alien contraption. The skilled player can supposedly unlock a narrative, but for the untrained hearing person the listening process is made physical and self-conscious, frustratingly barred from its usual ease.
An adjacent viewing room screens a new four-channel video, ‘Close Readings’. The title presumably puns on “closed captioning” but it also intimates how captions inevitably foreclose one’s reception of sound. For this video project, Kim invited four deaf friends to provide sound captions to clips from an eclectic selection of popular flicks. Displayed on the screens alongside the standard closed captioning, these imagined captions are sometimes literal - “several dogs howl in distance” - and other times poetic, abstract or utterly personal - “sound of pink,” “shrill prejudice,” or even “a sugary, overly saccharine high voice that would annoy only my mother.” Each video is textured with layers of translations, with meaning traversing betwixt and between image, sound and word. While Kim’s installation is mute, its viewing space receives the overspill of a loud soundtrack from another artist’s video in the next room; funnily, the interference only seems to foreground the generative non-hearing in Kim’s art, in which sound catches meaning by way of its silence.