Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Mendi + Keith Obadike's 4-1-9 + Soucouyant's Props

Mendi + Keith Obadike are two of the most exciting younger artists I know. Working in and across forms and formal strategies, separately (Mendi/mlo is also an exceptional poet and the author of the award-winning collection Flesh and Armor, and Keith is a sound and virtual artificer) and together, they have created a number of projects that expand our notions of what conceptual, online, musical-dramatic-operatic, sculptural, language, and performance art, which is to say, contemporary art, can be. Under the blogroll to the right, you can find mlo's readings of the world via the Sweat links, and more of her and Keith's individual projects are available via the Mendi + Keith link.

Their newest project is called "4-1-9, OR YOU CAN'T VIEW A MASQUERADE BY STANDING IN ONE PLACE." One aspect of it, a reprogrammed ATM (!), is on display (performance?) through June 9, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, in Chelsea. However there is an online component which you can access via this link (it worked best on my Mac in Safari, rather than Firefox). They'll be performing some of the songs based on the letters live later this month, so if you're in NYC, check them out. This project, to say the least, initiates a new aesthetic economy.

Here's what Mendi has to say about the project:

Hi guys, Just sending this note to let you know about a new work about "Nigerian" email scams. A few months ago I mentioned in an offhand way that trying to purchase an ATM was connected to defining "ars poetica" in my world. That was a reference to some new things I am trying to figure out about (1) found language (i was going to say found poetry, but i am thinking about what it is before it is encountered as a poem) and (2) sculptural objects and poetry. The latest project is a moment in this exploration.

The website has songs, an online game, and an interactive form, which I hope some of you will fill out. We're making songs from the responses and will perform some of them in late May. There's more below.

More Info:


musical suite based on email scams. 4-1-9 is the name for a fund
transfer scam or con commonly believed to originate from Nigeria. Each
email tells the story of a modern African tragedy in fewer than five
hundred words. These letters are actually created around the world.
However, they often use names and locations that are particular to
Nigeria or other parts of Africa. What idea of Africa do the composers
of these letters hope to invoke?

Housed in an ATM machine at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the
project explores the structure of tragedy, archetypal African
identities on the web, and the notion of scams. At the website, you can
listen to songs based on the letters, use our form to create your own
4-1-9 letter, and play the online game, BALANCE.

WHAT: Airborne, an exhibition about wireless communication
WHERE: New Museum of Contemporary Art
556 West 22nd Street (at 11th Avenue) NYC 10011
PHONE: 212-219-1222

An excerpt of songs from this collection will be performed
on May 19, 7pm, 133 Beekman St., New York
for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council

I tried it out and left re-evaluating my responses to the river of flow of spam I receive, particularly from the "surviving" relatives of the late Nigerian dictator Ibrahim Babangida or the "children" of one of the various leading factions in Liberia's horrific war. I also played the Pong-like game BALANCE, and listened to the audio files, which I amplified so they created atmospherics in my Chi living room/study.

Also, I wanted to give props to Ms. Soucouyant (can I mention your name?), who won a prestigious NYFA grant for her poetry!

As her blog makes clear, she is a fabulous writer and person, maintaining her determination and composure despite her vicissitudes in the NYC public school system. I have to add that Ms. Soucouyant also is one of the most natural talents I've ever seen behind a microphone. When she's performing, she has complete command of your attention and the performative space. (Just imagine her posted dialogues and recounts of The L Word live!) She's already produced some great work, and this grant will only help her create much more. Congratulations!


  1. oh john! you are the bomb. thanks for such kind words. many props to you and much love. m