Ahead of her upcoming exhibition and residency, artist Christine Sun Kim spoke to Holly McGrane from Arnolfini about her work, ambitions for the future and the move into film.
HM: Your work often takes you across the world. Do you enjoy that part of the job?
CSK: I’ve been incredibly lucky. It took me quite some time and guts to give art a full shot. It’s been only less than two years since I became a full-time artist and I consider that to be my biggest achievement to this date.
I’m not that great when it comes to finding balance in life. It can be stressful with all those small administrative tasks. But I get to form new friendships with amazing folks I work with. One of my first residencies was at Recess in New York City and the experience itself was rewarding because I got to work with a group of people who do not communicate in American Sign Language, although their attitude was in the right place. They were so open and helped me figure out solutions to whatever situations we had. I inhabited that very attitude and it has been taking me to places far and wide. Thanks, Allison and Maia!
HM: What does an average working day look like for you and where do you find inspiration?
CSK: I seem to work in extremes of everything. There’s no routine, really. I would work like there’s no tomorrow for months and months then take a break for weeks or months. Being super lazy or super stressed is usually when ideas come to me, especially from people who are much smarter than me and I get to learn a shitload from them. Nothing’s more exciting than that.
HM: Your work is often humorous and playful – why is that?
CSK: Really? I was also told that some of my pieces were a bit too serious. Sometimes I think I subconsciously use humor to help people get over my deafness right away and look at me as an artist. Maybe not.
HM: Working with film art installation is a relatively new departure for you - what made you turn your hand to making film?
CSK: I’ve always wanted to make film and I’ve been thinking a lot about what constitutes a 'music' video that could appeal to different audiences. Fortunately, with the grant from DASH, it’s a great opportunity to produce a new body of work. My work goes in many directions and I don’t think I can stick to one for so long.
HM: What can people expect from the film?
CSK: Most likely it will seep out of two projects I’m currently working on with University of Texas’ Visual Arts Center in late March. It will probably be about the standard list of decibels, with both images and text.
HM: I notice that you reference musical notations and compositional elements in your drawings. What is it about these symbols that interests you?
CSK: My friend and I had a talk about several technical writing systems for American Sign Language. They’re all very similar to musical symbols and I realized that both music and ASL are very similar in many ways, so I started composing visual scores based on how I perceive concepts inside my head.
HM: Language seems to be a recurring theme in your work, as well as sound. What does language mean to you and your work?
CSK: Language is a conventional tool, so full of norms and people’s expectations. It's both complex and overly simple. There is a strong hierarchy among languages out there and I find it much more interesting when you let languages overlap each other because that’s where I find great materials to work with.
HM: How has your formative experiences of sound and language, when you were growing up, shaped the work you make today?
CSK: It just astounds me that I never had a chance to look into my relationship with sound until recently. I mean, I’ve been really conscious about how i behave around sound but often mindlessly follow people’s expectations and rules. Sound is actually fluid but it comes with social heaviness.
HM: If you had any budget available and all the right conditions, what kind of work would you like to make next?
CSK: I'd love to use big spaces, such as tents and playgrounds, as massive instruments and set up a number of subsonic speakers that emit low frequencies - just physical enough to cause architectural features to absorb and rattle. I like the idea of using sound to make new sound, and you get to experience the space’s response to sound. I did something similarly called 4x4 for Andquestionmark in Stockholm and I’d like to continue in that direction.
For more about Christine Sun Kim's residency and exhibition at Arnolfini, visit the event page.
Artist Christine Sun Kim has been awarded a residency at Arnolfini as part of a joint commission in partnership with DASH as part of the IN (Disability Arts IN the Mainstream) project.