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American Cypher: Stereo Helix for Sally Hemings

  • Location:
    Samek Art Gallery, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 17837, US

With this inaugural exhibition, the stairwell of the Elaine Langone Center at Bucknell University is transformed into a sound art chamber.

Artists Mendi and Keith Obadike describe the Stereo Helix for Sally Hemings, part of their American Cypher project, as a sonic drawing created for the lobby of the ELC. The primary sound source for this work is a small antique bell that belonged to Sally Hemings, given to her by Martha Jefferson (her half-sister and Thomas Jefferson’s wife).

This sound recording has been manipulated in order to derive multiple textures, pitches, colors, and effects from this source. The bell 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. This 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.

Mendi and Keith Obadike are interdisciplinary artists whose music, live art, and conceptual Internet artworks have been exhibited internationally. Their album The Sour Thunder was released on Bridge Records. Their work generated much discussion online and offline when they offered Keith's blackness for sale on eBay in 2001. In 2002 Mendi and Keith premiered their Internet opera The Sour Thunder, which was the first new media work commissioned by the Yale Cabaret and they launched The Interaction of Coloreds (commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art). Keith received a BA in Art from North Carolina Central University and an MFA in Sound Design from Yale University. Mendi received a BA in English from Spelman College and a PhD in Literature from Duke University.

Artist talk and opening Feb. 29, 7:00PM, Samek Art Gallery, Bucknell University.

Presented in collaboration with the Griot Institute for Africana Studies.