Two people are walking toward one another. One person is trying to establish eye contact while the other is not. Now imagine communicating this specific yet painfully familiar situation to someone without saying those words out loud.
From Aug. 19 to Dec. 10, visitors can come to Gund Gallery and find their entrenched notion of sound, whether perceived or transmitted, challenged by the Christine Sun Kim: Oh Me Oh My exhibition.
Born profoundly deaf, Kim investigates the liminal space between the aural and the inaudible and all of its cultural and political dimensions. The revelatory observations formed from this exploration are shared with attendees through the diverse visual language of American Sign Language (ASL), painting, videos, mathematical diagrams and memes.
Walking into the exhibition, visitors will first encounter the Debt series. Transfiguring the visual of the ASL sign for “debt” into conceptual drawings of varying urgency, the series demands that observers reflect on what people owe to one another. As one progresses through the gallery, the Deaf community’s lived experience is presented with both levity – “Too young to act on Seinfeld,” reads the label for the largest sector of a pie chart titled “Why I stopped taking speech therapy” – and a critical undertone – Deaf/hearing communication comes with inevitable distortions and delays, notes the artist on her Small Echo paintings.
Kim’s unique relationship to sound is also depicted through drawings and large-scale murals. This transmediation — the translation from one medium to another— of sound onto the two-dimensional surfaces of paintings does not have a flattening effect. Rather, observers are invited to reexamine their usual perception of sound and instead, experience sound in all of its unexplored planes.
Revealing the challenges of the Deaf community within a world structured predominantly for the hearing, Oh Me Oh My is political, but not without playfulness. A series of videos in the exhibition utilizes the concept of the improvisation game Helping Hand: one person stands behind the other; the one behind has arms protruding out while the one in the front has their hands clasped behind their back. Kim and collaborating artist Thomas Madder take turns being either the face or the arms, working together to describe multiple awkward social situations via ASL. They successfully convey the intricacies of these scenarios with such wit and vividness that the spoken word pales in comparison. Oh Me Oh My is on display at Gund Gallery until Dec. 10th.