Challenging the Authority of Sound Adrienne McNair | INLS 690

Christine Sun Kim (name sign: "CK") is an artist and maker. CK is a Deaf sound, drawing, video, performance, and installation artist. Her practice of making explores what it is like to be a Deaf person in a world full of sound, a world that privileges hearing. She makes art to push back against the dominant narrative about the value of sound (Kim, 2015; May, 2019).

This book is made up of three parts: a book, a microcontroller, and a fabric envelope with lasercut fingerspelling shapes.

In her artwork, CK represents sound as she experiences it: visually and spatially. She considers herself a maker even in everyday life: for someone speaking ASL, there are so many different factors at play — facial expression, hand shape, movement, location speed, etc. — that simply communicating an idea is a form of making. (Kim, 2015)

The microcontroller is a visual representation of sound, a reminder to the reader that sound is present around them as they explore the book. For CK, "Movement is equivalent to sound," so whenever the microcontroller gets moved, it swirls a sequence of rainbow lights. When at rest, the microcontroller shows a visual display of sound levels in the immediate environment. Additionally, when put in the dark, the lights turn off as a representation of the inability to see signed language in the dark.

Colored tabs guide the reader through a book-long blackout poem, uncovering quotes from CK in reference to her practice of making.

There are also hidden, untabbed, meaningful words and phrases scattered throughout the book.

I used charcoal pencil, a prominent medium in CK's work. Just as in her artwork, the charcoal smudged with my touch, highlighting my own movement in the making of the book.

I used lasercutting to create handshapes that represent letters of the alphabet in American Sign Langauge (ASL). In total, the letters spell "language," "sound," "hear," "listen," and "see," and can be rearranged to spell other words.

One of the remarkable yet ironic aspects of CK's work is that it has been enthusiastically embraced by the fine art world: her work has been shown at prestigious museum, and it is considered to be at the forefront of contemporary art (Kim, 2020). However, it is only through her creation of dialogic objects (Garfinkel, 2017) that her ideas are so wholly accepted into the greater discourse. Her words have to be translated through her artwork in order to be understood, just as her ASL communications have had to be received indirectly, through interpreters, for her entire life. Rather than "valu[ing] the lived experience" of CK and others in the Deaf community, "without needing copious amounts of data to make them valid," (Brown, 2020, p. 14), society requires CK to make extraordinary objects that are humorous and human in order to take her seriously. In fact, the smudges she leaves on the page seem necessary for this purpose. If CK were to create technically perfect, sleek objects with no remnants of her fallible self, her humanity might get lost behind the material and form and her creations might stand alone and not carry the full weight of her "real lived experience" (Brown, 2020, p. 18). CK's identity is tightly woven into her making, and the process of creating and sharing her work is an act of continual resistance against the authority of sound.


"Fingerspelling Chart," copyright 2007, by William Vicars (http://lifeprint.com). Gallaudet Font, copyright 1991, by David Rakowski.

All other images by Adrienne McNair.


Brown, J. (2020). Critical Race Theory and Makerspaces: A Practical Approach. In M. Melo and J. Nichols (Eds.), Re-making the Library Makerspace: Critical Theories, Reflections, and Practices (pp. 11–26). Litwin Books and Library Juice Press.

Garfinkel, S. (2017). Dialogic objects in the age of 3-D printing: The case of the Lincoln life mask. In J. Sayers (Ed.), Making things and drawing boundaries. University of Minnesota Press.

Kim, C. S. (2015). The enchanting music of sign language [Video]. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/christine_sun_kim_the_enchanting_music_of_sign_language?language=en#t-116909

Kim, C. S. (2020). Christine Sun Kim. http://christinesunkim.com/

May, E. (2019, August 9). Expressing rage through angles and pie charts with Berlin-based artist Christine Sun Kim. Friends of Friends. https://www.freundevonfreunden.com/interviews/berlin-christine-sun-kim/

MIT List Visual Arts Center. (2020). Christine Sun Kim: Off the charts. MIT List Visual Arts Center. https://listart.mit.edu/exhibitions/christine-sun-kim-charts-0

MIT List Visual Arts Center. (2020, March 18). Christine Sun Kim: Off the charts [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ySGEwQWNOQ

MoMA. (2013). Christine Sun Kim: Biography. Soundings exhibition artists. https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2013/soundings/artists/5/works/

pensum. (2012, October 20). Christine Sun Kim: Listening with one's eyes. Artist statements: An archive. https://artiststatements.wordpress.com/tag/christine-sun-kim/#:~:text=As%20a%20visual%20and%20performance,views%20and%20etiquettes%20around%20it.

Rakowski, D. (1991). Gallaudet Font [Font].

Vicars, W. (2007). Fingerspelling chart [Graphic]. http://lifeprint.com