LET’S REVIEW: A Loud Silence, Deaf artists explore sound

Art can be of great value in helping us look at concepts like “difference” and “equality” in new ways. It can even speed the process of our social evolution.

The Calit2 gallery (California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology) on the UC San Diego campus is one place where they are not afraid to do this and that makes it worthy of our attention. Calit2 is a place that can help us grow. Its curators and artists make our humanity “bigger.”

The latest show at Calit2 is called “LOUD silence.” It’s about sound and hearing and explores the question, “What do deaf people really hear?”

The artists in this show collectively attempt to explode the myth of a silent deaf world. They aim to build a pathway that will help eradicate any prejudice against deaf people and lead to new ways of thinking about sound and silence.

Social scientists Carol Padden and Tom Humphries say people with deafness actually know a lot about sound; it informs and inhabits their world just as much it does the next person.

It’s just that the deaf hear more viscerally — through vibrations and feelings. They may even see sound.

Music theorist Joseph Straus says for the deaf, “Hearing can be a much more multi-sensory experience.”

The opening night of “LOUD silence” Jan. 22 was a very moving and uplifting experience of seeing people with sound handicaps gaily bantering back and forth in American Sign Language (ASL). A large group of the hearing impaired showed up for Christine Sun Kim’s “FingerTap Quartet.”

Kim presented her performance piece both in ASL and by typing on a computer with her words displayed on a bank of 20 large-screen TVs. She shared four prompts about sound that she asked Jamie Stewart and his musical group, Xin Xin, to vocalize.

The first prompt was to make “a sound that you like and think is good.” This produced vowel sounds like oh, ee and ah.

The second prompt was to make “a sound that you don’t like and don’t think is good.” This led to sounds like nasty laughs, coughs, and backward-spoken words.

The third prompt was to make “a sound that you like but suspect might not be good.” This led to yawns and rapping rhythms.

The fourth prompt to make “a sound that you don’t like but know is good,” produced foghorns, doorbells, telephone rings and babies crying.

After the performance, show curator Amanda Cachia, a grad student studying art history, theory and criticism at UCSD, who is also a dwarf activist, was joined on stage by Kim, Lisa Cartwright and Brenda Brueggemann for a panel discussion about the performance and gallery exhibition. The panel explored deaf people’s conceptions of sound and the distinction between art and identity in deaf sound works.

An audience member asked Kim what a deaf person’s experience of rhythm was like. Kim said that she was exploring rhythm by watching a metronome swing back and forth at different speeds, but had not yet come to any conclusions.

After the panel, patrons strolled over to explore the Calit2 gallery proper, which featured things like a performance video by Shary Boyle titled “Silent Dedicatio”; an installation by Darrin Martin called “Radiolarian”; some drawings of sound scoring by Kim; and a set of sculptures titled “Breathing Instruments,” by Alison O’Daniel.

—The show runs through March 1 at UC San Diego’s Calit2 gallery inside Atkinson Hall. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. The gallery plans to host additional events with speakers and performances related to the show, which will be posted at