By Kathryn Kopchik
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Conceptual artists Mendi and Keith Obadike will share their original sound installation, "American Cypher: Stereo Helix for Sally Hemings," on Wednesday, Feb. 29, at 7 p.m. in the Gallery Theatre of the Elaine Langone Center at Bucknell University.
Created for the Bucknell campus, the project uses the genetic code of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson as a musical score input into custom software to generate an original evolving soundscape.
The installation was co-commissioned by the Griot Institute for Africana Studies and the Samek Art Gallery.
The Obadikes use the sound of Hemings' bell, given to her by Martha Jefferson, as a focal point in their sound installation, which will open with a gallery talk and film screening by the artists.
The artists describe the installation as a sonic drawing. The sound recording has been manipulated in order to derive multiple textures, pitches, colors and effects from the bell, whose sounds have been mixed in the installation in real-time with ambient field recordings from Jefferson's Monticello plantation.
The sound plays from moving speakers in the stairwell, emitting an extremely narrow beam of sound in a spiraling double helix-like pattern. The soundscape will broadcast in the downhill stairwell of the Elaine Langone Center through the end of the semester.
Mendi and Keith Obadike are interdisciplinary artists whose music, live art and conceptual Internet artworks have been exhibited internationally. Their work generated much discussion online and offline when they offered Keith's "blackness" for sale on eBay in 2001 as an Internet performance. Their works have been exhibited at The Whitney's Artport, The New Museum and The Studio Museum in Harlem. Their opera masquerade, "Four Electric Ghosts," was developed at Toni Morrison's Atelier at Princeton University in 2005 and commissioned by the Kitchen in New York in 2009.
They were awarded the Pick Laudati Digital Art Award from Northwestern University for Big House / Disclosure, a 200-hour sound installation commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade. Other awards include a Rockefeller Fellowship for New Media Art, New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Prize for Mendi's book of poetry, Armor and Flesh.
The event is part of Bucknell's spring lecture series, "Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: An American Origin Story, Interdisciplinarily Considered," which seeks to examine various narratives about the Hemings/Jefferson affair in terms of their historical and contemporary resonances and significances.
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