Daniel Wickerham and Malcolm Lomax, the creatives behind Baltimore-based artist duo Wickerham & Lomax, began their collaborative relationship in 2009 while attending Maryland Institute College of Art. The team’s work spans across various media and contexts, predominantly investigating networked virtual spaces, accessibility and codified language. For their current exhibition, entitled “Local Atonement: A Nutshell Study of Unexplained Death” at American Medium gallery in Brooklyn, Wickerham & Lomax continue to tackle the key themes that structure their exhibitions through a speculative, condensed body of paintings and HD animation. We met with the eponymous Malcolm Lomax and Daniel Wickerham in Baltimore to discuss why proximity to crime is interesting, our networked culture as a form of contagion and police shooting of unarmed citizens.
Your show, “Local Atonement: A Nutshell Study of Unexplained Death”, is a reiteration of many of the key themes that framed the Artist Space show “DUOX4Larkin”. Tell us about what some of these themes are and why they continue to hold importance.
Malcolm: Daniel and I have arrived at a point where we are tracing our steps, consciously noticing some of the overarching themes that keep the work slipping into various other fields – a lot of the themes have to do with narrative and biology. In the Artist Space show “DUOX4Larkin”, it was important for us to focus a lot of that attention on a protagonist, a single catalyst for carrying ideas. But in “Local Atonement”, the idea was about articulating space as a protagonist through images – something similar to a comic strip or set design, but done through a conventionally fine arts lens.
Daniel: The metaphor of a fashion house, which we presented in “DUOX4Larkin”, was used in both shows. Specifically, using the idea of a label’s DNA as a way to think about our collaborative language. The idea of a fashion brand’s DNA returns in our new show, too. Digital paintings are set in a flooded antique store, with shelves displaying reworked motifs from the practice. By imagining an artist would need to take over the collaboration, the paintings can function as a blueprint of the fashion house’s DNA.
“Crime has been a big part of our work” – Daniel Wickerham
In the press release for the show, you mention that the characters in your web-based narrative “BOY’Dega: Edited4Syndication” serve as storage units for data. Given that the exhibition deals with renderings of death and personalisation, are you framing both concepts as containers for blueprints?
Malcolm: I think they could be seen in a similar way. The title for this exhibition comes from a really distinct place, referencing dioramas constructed to teach forensic scientist about crime scenes. Some of our fascinations have to do with avoiding dominant truths and tackling some of the supplemental and peripheral means of articulating an experience. I think with the characters in their initial iterations they were supplemental for the actual actors, in that we used their lives as starting points.
Daniel: The second part of the title, “A Nutshell Study of Unexplained Death,” was lifted from a book written by Frances Glessner Lee, who taught forensic scientists how to look at crime scenes. She built crime dioramas and established a working method on how to see that is still in use today. Crime has been a big part of our work and proximity to crime is interesting – in particular, the eye witness on the street. When multiple people see the same crime, you get many subjective realities that beautifully personalise the truth – this is known as social cubism. This is valuable because multiple voices are more valuable than one, and I think that shows in the work.
“Networked culture today, ironically, seems more like isolated expression and self presentation” – Daniel Wickerham
3D-printed figurines of your heads, respectively, are incorporated into the works on view. Is there a pertinent reason why you chose to include these figurines?
Malcolm: We wanted a contemporary means to present authorship. The heads were incorporated to acknowledge the trope of the artist’s signature on paintings.
I wonder if this at all extends to the tar and feathered frame.
Malcolm: The frames come from previous sculpture work that was rather quickly made and terrible but we loved the effect. It’s the first time it’s come back since rather early in the practice.
You reference Patricia Storace’s “The Shock of the Little”, wherein she talks about scale, proportion and material alterations of environment as “one of the fundamental physical dramas of childhood.” How does this understanding of phenomena relate to the works on view?
Daniel: The sense of control that comes with building and arranging a dollhouse had parallels to the world building aspects of the BOY’Dega website. In Storace’s writing it is suggested that mastery has failure built in: “no one can realize the ultimate fantasy a dollhouse awakens.” Those worlds behind the shelves of the antique shop are another fiction, which are television sets in various stages of construction. If the paintings contain a blueprint to the collaborative language and are in fact this linked to dollhouses, what an interesting position this places on the work; suggesting access is limited or even purposefully withheld, forever holding a viewer in limbo between fictions.
Networked virtualities and contagion also play a thematic role in your practice. Do you consider our networked culture as a form of contagion?
Daniel: Yes, and it deserves the word contagion – if you prefer the definition of contagion as being the harmful or undesirable contact or influence. I would say we have new machines that allows us to share and stay connected, but what we are spreading isn’t ideas so much as emotions. Networked culture today, ironically, seems more like isolated expression and self presentation. We all know the codes of how to network, but it’s a kind of inert field in terms of invention.
“Since we began working together, we’ve had to develop not only a group language but also a group way of thinking” – Daniel Wickerham
I’m curious as to how your formulation of the workplace as an articulation of one’s identity structures your working relationship, especially as a collaborative duo.
Daniel: We often work with locations in a way that the hierarchy and codes of conduct are considered and then recoded.The studio mutates to the demands of the project being worked on, at times turning itself into an animation studio, a computer lab or a wood shop. More than workplace, place is simply something we often consider. Since we began working together, we’ve had to develop not only a group language but also a group way of thinking, where two voices could speak equally, merge often and even be distinct at times in order to function.
“Knowing the parameters of a place in regard to fiction and nonfiction creates this other weird layer of viewing” – Malcolm Lomax
In the description of the show you mention the “idea of location as character” and how it can at times lead its occupants to escape. What do you mean by this?
Malcolm: I remember we were watching the Netflix original series “Easy” and became curious about the setting. After rounds of suggestions, we summed it up: nondescript, medium size city. But my frustration stemmed from one specific location that the production team shot. It felt overwhelmingly detailed and they kept showing multiple shots of the exterior, so I had an urge to know. Knowing the parameters of a place in regard to fiction and nonfiction creates this other weird layer of viewing – this complicated negotiation if it’s at all really like that.
Do you feel this way about Baltimore, particularly in wake of high-profile police shooting of unarmed citizens?
Malcolm: I’m reminded of this real moment I was having with myself regarding all the happenings taking place in Baltimore. It reminded me of the need for one’s home to give credence to safety. It made me consider the emotional trauma of my past and in my childhood home and not knowing how to correctly provide love and or safety in such as space. I’m constantly trying to syphon the emotional abuse from those affirmations into an open imaginative existence.
If neither of you were making art, what would you ideally focus your creative energies on?
Malcolm: For me it would be cooking. I don’t think I’d fully become a chef, though – just a hobbyist. Or, a facilitator of some sort – making things happen for other people. I think the real goal is to de-professionalise my creative energies and have them for myself in order to share them at will.
Daniel: Making art has always been at the mercy of our creative energies. We’ve made the practice porous enough to adjust to our changing interest, but I don’t think that is uncommon among artists today. I like to think about how those energies can be of imaginative quality and less about it being right for the field.
What are you working on next?
Malcolm: We are working towards a film. The script is written. Through the winter it will probably go through a couple drafts. It’s gonna be interesting to work with actors.
Is this going to be the one that pulls together the elaborate series of exhibitions, or something different?
Malcolm: It extends this trilogy that we’ve been attempting to work on. It’s the second instalment, and we’re currently calling it “The Opposable Thumbs Monologues”. But I think Dan and I are gonna change a few things about it.
“Local Atonement: A Nutshell Study of Unexplained Death” by Wickerham & Lomax is currently on view at Brooklyn’s American Medium gallery until 31 October 2016
All images courtesy of duoxduox.com