Dive Deeper into Christine Sun Kim: Off the Charts

7 cushions ranging from reds to blues to purple with 7 headphones sit atop a white bench surrounded by 6 pie-chart drawings.

Installation view, Christine Sun Kim: Off the Charts, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 2020. Photo: Peter Harris Studio.

Always, but especially in times of great difficulty, art has the potential to remind us what it is to be human.

It offers glimpses into the vastness of subjective and embodied experience that can radically reframe our perspectives, or invite us to question the status quo. In the face of loss, confinement, and uncertainty, experiencing—and making—art, to me, remains essential. 

My List Center colleagues and I are tasked with making the work of artists public, often in the form of an exhibition. While we are now rethinking ways in which the visual arts can be shared with our constituents in a time that necessitates social distancing, we also want to make accessible the exhibitions that have temporarily closed at the List Center. In this spirit, I’d like to share some of my “picks,” from Christine Sun Kim’s solo exhibition Off the Charts. For this exhibition, Christine Sun Kim has shared a series of recent charcoal drawings and an audio installation for which she commissioned fellow artists to compose alternative lullabies for her daughter. Employing conceptual strategies to ends both funny and sincere, Christine’s work is invested in the politics of voice, listening, and language—troubling both the implicit authority of spoken over signed language and the notion that sound is inextricably tethered to hearing. 

I hope you enjoy this look at Christine’s exhibition,

Selby Nimrod 
Assistant Curator 

Exhibition Highlights

Shit Hearing People Say To Me, 2019

Inspired by the striking modernist infographics illustrating twentieth-century sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois’s study, Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America, Christine’s series of pie chart drawings break down the factors involved in a number of the personal decisions she makes as a Deaf person (like Why I Do Not Read Lips, and When I Pretend to Be Hearing) by relative importance. Shit Hearing People Say to Me stands apart from the eight other drawings in the series presented at the List Center. Rather than illustrating her choices, with unequal weights given to each factor in her decision, in this drawing the chart’s slices are divvied up evenly, each section representing a biased or inappropriate comment the artist has received from hearing people. 

From signing the national anthem at the 2020 super bowl (later writing a scorching Op-Ed about the experience in the New York Times) to her series of “Deaf Rage” drawings (presented in the 2019 Whitney Biennial) that pointed out ableism in the art world, and recently leveraging her Instagram to urge followers to #stayinside and stop the spread of COVID-19, Christine’s activism on behalf of the Deaf community, and beyond, is a source of inspiration and strength in these challenging times.

Framed black and white pie-chart drawing “SHIT PEOPLE SAY TO ME” hangs on a white gallery wall.

The Sound of Obsessing, 2020

Located adjacent to the List Center in the atrium of the Media Lab, Christine’s large-scale mural The Sound of Obsessing, is an enlargement of her drawing of the same name. Part of a series that employs musical dynamic notations, this work conveys Christine’s diagrammatic interpretation of affective states or emotions in sound, proposing, as the title suggests, how the sensation of obsession might be translated into musical notation. In sheet music, the symbols P and F indicate the relational musical dynamics of piano, or soft playing and forte, or loud playing. Here, her spatial treatment of the narrowing distance between each “P,” indicates a quickening of pace, a thought that starts off slowly, and then increases in frequency until, nearly stacked on top of one another, the quiet idea consumes the page, and, by association, the thinker.

Christine, who was also a recent director’s fellow at MIT’s Media Lab, found the concept of obsessing a fitting subject for members of the MIT community, many of whom can relate to the feeling of total immersion in their research and ideas. In the strangeness of the present moment, obsessing about the uncertainty of what lies ahead can be all too easy. Instead, I’m trying to focus my energies on creative projects, and using solitude as an occasion to deepen my research.

A mural by Christine Sun Kim features hand drawn letter "P's" on a white wall.

Do At Home | Make Your Own Data Portrait

Christine Sun Kim, inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois’s iconic infographics in Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America, uses charts, graphs, and various visual representations to explore her identity as a person that has been deaf since birth. These figures deliver an autobiographical narrative through ‘portraits’ created using information she has gathered through her experiences.

Activity: 30 Minutes

Look Closely: The commentary in Why I Play the Deaf Card (2019) and Why I Watch with Closed Captions (2019) allows one to see the way the artist, as someone who is deaf, resists the experience of being marginalized through personal choices that inform how she is seen, valued, or recognized in the world.

Draw: Either in a pie chart form like Kim’s pieces or in another visual infographic format, make a biographical data portrait using evidence you have gathered through the context of your own life.

Choose one aspect of your identity and think about how you encounter the world through that lens. What collection of experiences regarding the chosen aspect of your identity have you gathered? If you were to group them and analyze them, what would your portrait look like?

Share: Tag @MITListArts on Instagram or mitlistarts [at] mit.edu (email us) your creations!

Watch | Inside The Gallery With Christine Sun Kim

Learn about Christine Sun Kim: Off The Charts with the artist! In this video, Kim discusses her relationship to sound, the inspiration behind her latest body of work, and how she conceived of Lullabies for Roux (2018/2020). 

Selby's Picks: Culture and Cooking From Home 


With ample time for reading over the last few weeks, I’ve been revisiting a few art historical texts that have been formative to my thinking, including Amelia Jones’s concise polemic “Art History/Art Criticism: Performing Meaning,” which argues for an embodied and feminist approach to interpreting art—one that, crucially, acknowledges the critic’s own position as a desiring subject. I’ve also been gravitating towards poetry and short stories, especially the writings of Ariana Reines (Mercury and the new A Sand Book) and Anne Carson (Autobiography of Red—a classic!). My List Center colleague, the artist Suara Welitoff, recently gifted me a little book called 5x5 Singles Club. Published in the mid-90s by Allston’s own Primal Publishing, Suara’s ghostly portraits are sandwiched between short stories of gritty, grungy, youth culture including an excerpt from Eileen Myles’s Cool for You. To punctuate the time at home, I’ve been savoring one story from it each night. 


Comfort food! My housemates and I have been on a cooking rotation, taking turns preparing a meal to share each night—something we look forward to immensely now. Highlights so far have included: two varieties of Kimchi pancakes, as learned from an excellent video tutorial by Maangchi; my mother’s recipe for eggplant “parm;” Aarti’s transcendent masala-curried vegetables; and Maggie’s sourdough boule served with meatballs and red sauce.