Hear no Evil: Society’s Lack of Tolerance for Sound


Christine Sun Kim, 2015. Photo Ryan Lash.

In Philomena Epps’ article for Art in America Online entitled, “The Politics of Sound: An Interview with Christine Sun Kim”, the author interviewed contemporary artist Christine Sun Kim. What is so unique about this particular artist is that she was not only born death, but creates performance pieces that study sound. During the time of the interview Christine Sun Kim, who was born in California, but lives in Berlin, was working on her new performance piece called “Nap Disturbance.” Like many of her previous works, “Nap Disturbance,” examines the importance of noise within our society. Kim uses a variety of techniques such as drawing, painting, and video, which allows both hearing and hearing impaired audiences to experience sound in a new and unique way. Kim’s work challenges her own theory of “hearing etiquettes,” which the artists explains are the “certain behaviors she finds herself adopting to remain within the bounds of accepted social interactions in an auditory world.” In other words, while many artists are using visual depictions to question the social norms of society, Kim however, is using sound.

Kim further explains in the interview that her performance pieces originated from the knowledge of mannerisms that she learned growing up as a child. Certain behaviors were deemed as impolite because they made too much noise. These ill-mannered behaviors included noises such as; slamming the door, burping, or eating chips too loudly. What may seem like normal human behaviors to some, but to Kim these noises were seen as disturbances. This idea of what makes a noise impolite, and what sounds are acceptable, drove Kim to explore “how sound occupies the [same] space” as humans. Kim’s performances consist of everyday sounds that, not only catches the audience’s attention, but allows them to connect with the familiarity of sounds being made around them. For example, Kim states that she uses sounds such as; drops of water, chairs being folded, and noises made by feet touching the ground. After the noises are played they are then broke into two categories; “polite” and “not-so-polite sounds.” How Kim concludes whether a sound from her performance is acceptable or not is ultimately based on the reaction of the audience. Kim even admitted that if she feels the audience is not paying attention to the sounds in her performance piece she turns the noise up louder. However clever this technique is, Kim’s performances face some limitation of their own. The artist claims that every time she is scheduled to exhibit her art, the event, or function ask her to keep the noise to a minimum so that it does not disturb her buyers. It is ironic that while Kim is studying the limitations of sound, within her own showcases, she is also faced with certain restrictions of her own.

During the interview Kim also explains her use of the color chromo green, which is usually used as simple backdrop, but is the main color in Kim’s performances. Kim reveals that the purpose of the color is to allow the performer’s clothes to stand out to the audience. Kim specifically wanted her performers to wear hoodies because they symbolize peace and quietness. However, the visual effects of the performance are ultimately in contradiction with the sound because the more calming the attire, the louder the noise becomes. A tolerance to sound, is what Kim desires her audience to take away from her performances. Although we hear the same noises in Kim performances in our everyday lives, for some reason, just because the noise is made louder we do not accept it. Kim is challenging society’s sensitivity to sound by questioning our traditional values. And she is doing it in a way that is similar to an Art 21 artist by the name of Edgar Arceneax. Arceneax created an installation by arranging a suicide letter, that was sent to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and then placing the letter on a mirror so that the audience not only sees the letter, but their own refection as well. In turn, placing the audience in the same shoes as Dr. King. The similarity between Kim and Arceneax is their ability to bring discomfort to their audiences, but in a meaningful way. Arceneax stated himself that “innovation comes from discomfort,” and just as he is using visual effects to bring light to an issue that is close to him, likewise, Christine Sun Kim is using sound to do the same.

-Regine Lawson


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