Chicago Sun-Times   3/2007

Big time for 'Big House' at NU: 200-hour song cranks up today at

Dave Hoekstra


When: Noon today through March 9

Where: Northwestern University's Kresge Hall, 1880 Campus Dr., Evanston

Phone: (847) 491-7077

Even Frankie Knuckles would be knocked out by this -- eight straight days of house music.

By two artists.


That's the plan for "Big House/Disclosure," a 200-hour-long house music song that will begin playing at noon today in Northwestern University's Kresge Hall alcove, 1880 Campus Dr., Evanston, and online at

The ambitious project was assembled by Mendi + Keith, artists known for mashing up live art, music, literature and new media. They were commissioned by Northwestern's Art Theory & Practice and Art History departments.

One of Mendi + Keith's best-known projects is "Blackness for Sale," in which they attempted to auction Keith's blackness on eBay - - to illustrate the "modern commodification of the black male" -- in 2001.

Mendi + Keith will particpate in Northwestern's two-day conference "Out of Sight: New World Slavery and the Visual Imagination," also beginning today.

"Big House/Disclosure" was inspired by Chicago's 2002 slavery- era disclosure ordinance, which requires companies doing business with the city to disclose (if they existed in the 19th century) whether they profited from slavery. The project includes audio interviews with 200 Chicago area residents, who discuss slavery and the ordinance. More than 40 Northwestern students began the interviews in late January. Mendi + Keith composed the house music.

Mendi Obadike Lewis and Keith Obadike, who are married, call "Big House/Disclosure" an "intermedia suite."

"House music is played in old warehouses, where the labor force is African and often filled with people who have come from the South to work in Chicago," Mendi, 33, said earlier this week from Princeton, N.J., where she is a Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton University. "We have the music tracing its history from another perspective, what people make in the spaces that are left, and Southern black people finding work and losing work."

It's not an endurance marathon; the DJs won't be spinning constantly for eight days. The music during the 200-hour performance is triggered by custom-designed software tracking the real-time rise and fall of stock prices of several corporations that have admitted to profiting from slavery.

Mendi + Keith began collaborating in 1996. Her primary medium was poetry, and his was music. They began to compose music together, and their Internet opera "The Sour Thunder" was commissioned by Yale University and released in 2004 by Bridge Records.

Keith, 34, is now assistant professor in the College Arts and Communication at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.

In an interview from his office, Keith said, "We're really trying to imagine a big house and what people see in it. More than 75 people in our interviews said they imagined 'Gone With the Wind' when they were asked what a Southern plantation mansion looks like.

"I'm from Nashville, and it was interesting for me to hear so many people from Chicago, with such an interesting racial history, to say the image of a Southern plantation was from a Hollywood film."

Copyright CHICAGO SUN-TIMES 2007

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