August 30, 2013

Christine Sun Kim with Thomas Benno Mader Online. About the Website of the MoMA Show "Soundings"


Christine Sun Kim. All. Night. 2012. Score, pastel, pencil, and charcoal on paper, 38.5 x 50″. Courtesy the artist

I have been drooling over the website of the MoMA New York, wishing I could go jet-setting and see the exhibition Soundings. A Contemporary Score, the first sound art exhibition of the museum. Then I suddenly discovered I was lucky. My favorite artist Christine Sun Kim - the reason ├╝berhaupt why I would go to see the exhibition - has an art piece online (for free!) on the MoMA website to check out. I can now draw the conclusion that Soundings. A Contemporary Score is a success. A show with at least one great piece in it is much rarer than one would think.  

Thinking about Christine Sun Kim’s work the name of John Cage might come to mind. Both have a conceptual and experimental approach to sound. Many believe that after Cage an expansion of music is no longer a possibility. Yet from a very different perspective Christine Sun Kim steps in conceptually with what one can consider to be a musical-artistic expansion. John Cage comes from hearing culture. Christine Sun Kim comes from deaf culture. One is tempted to draw the quick conclusion that silence is what brings Cage’s and Sun Kim’s approach together in the first place. But that would be a too easy short-cut. Not only because Christine Sun Kim seems to have by character - her energy, the red lipstick -  an intense presence and drive: meeting her you can think a lot except silence - in contrast I imagine Cage to have been one of these persons who keeps quiet most of the time.

Could one say that Cage, in all his interest for silence, thought sound to be dominant, showing in his 4’33’’ that there is never an absolute silence? In a soundproof studio he discovered that even in these ideal circumstances he could hear two sounds, one of his blood circulation and one of his nervous system. In her TED-talk  (she was awarded in 2012) Christine Sun Kim brought forward a different approach: silence is imposing in music, she argued, as it is inherently used to shape sound. She concluded that calling her an expert in silence, is a big misconception: “Since I do not have direct access to sound, what does silence equate to then? Maybe, silence as you know silence, as we supposedly know silence, doesn't exist in my book.” The audience of the TED-award must have had a moment to think that through. Christine Sun Kim’s artistic work takes you off guard because it opens up a space for a new thought that you’ve never thought before. Isn’t that remarkable, such kind of art? In my opinion one can say it is the ultimate definition of good art.

The funny thing is that Christine Sun Kim doesn’t produce such new thinking by looking for the exceptional. No, she just looks deep into “plain” reality and shows what is apparent, yet hidden. She thereby irritates the culturally produced borders. In the piece that is online, with the title When Not Concentrated,  she worked together with her friend, the Berlin artist Thomas Benno Mader. Mader told Sun Kim that she makes a particular sound when she is concentrating as if she has “a very heavy weight” on her chest. Sun Kim asked Mader to put that sound into words. She used his text to reenact her unconsciously made sound. An impossible endeavor for both deaf and hearing people. First, Sun Kim takes a situation where also hearing persons are “deaf” to their unconsciously made sounds. Second, it is quite impossible for Mader to put the sound exactly into words. Third, it is impossible to reenact consciously an unconsciously made sound, thus the title “when not concentrated”. In this collaboration with Thomas Benno Mader Christine Sun Kim challenges and explores her own limitations and starting with that she irritates also the ones of others. Yet her work is radical but not invasive. That is another great thing about Christine Sun Kim’s work: she shifts borders but is at the same time very well aware of keeping certain ones intact.

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