In the third installment of the Contemporary Museum’s recent Liste exhibitions, a rotating series of small solo shows, a number of gallerygoers entered a dark, curtained-off back room and emerged soon after, looking confused and slightly harassed. “I think it’s a gay thing,” said one shrugging woman to her disinterested male companion as they walked away.
Behind the curtain, a distorted song played at low volume and suspended hunks of melting ice encasing obscured objects dripped slowly into a fish tank, accompanied by the sound of the occasional plunk of a keychain or brooch breaking free and splashing down. A tiny video of two young men in a shower played on a cellphone attached to a semi-medical-looking bench, with a towel hand-customized with zippers, hand sanitizer, zebra-print keys, and a flashlight cryptically incorporated into the installation. Refraining from overt signifiers, the work dissected idiosyncratic aspects of contemporary gay culture, voyeurism, and the internet age. The installation was the work of DUOX.
In a short year and a half, DUOX, the name under which artists Malcolm Lomax and Daniel Wickerham (both ’09 Maryland Institute College of Art graduates) work collaboratively, has presented three major projects locally and a fourth at New York’s Bard College in March and April with what can only be described as exponential leaps in sophistication. Treating the sexual and abject in their work with triviality and a cool nonchalance, DUOX examines the way we represent ourselves in reality, through the filter of our sexual orientation, and as virtual avatars.
In past exhibitions King Me at Open Space and Museum of Modern Twink at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center on West Chase Street, DUOX’s approach to installing collaborative solo shows in large spaces has been maximal and a little overwhelming. Lomax and Wickerham’s modus operandi seemed to be filling the gaps between larger, more impressive works with a slew of small moments and humorous details, be it crushed snack cakes, articles of clothing, or magazines, the latter ranging in subject from fashion to pornography. DUOX’s rejection of the idea of an art exhibit as a typical assortment of pristine objects echoes their unconventional way of communicating about their work. When asked via e-mail to sum up these stray details into a description of their work, Wickerham rattles off a list: “Manifesto; Dynamic loading of content without refreshing a page; Hijacks preexisting forms; Approach and presentation as subject and not merely process; The City Self. The Virtual Self; The Private Self; The Hustler Self; Social Media and anti-social behavior. . . .”
According to Wickerham, their minds and works are a consistent buzz of absorption and output. “The amount of details and dense reading we consider reflect our time, which has access to so many things, BUT our work is never about that,” Wickerham writes. “Our work will take that kind of access for granted, as a readymade, and provide a show that is a simultaneous reality to the one we live in.” With each exhibition, DUOX has struck a more apt balance between individual works, overall aesthetics, and a repetitive set of references, due to the building momentum and ambition of their mounted exhibits.
Handsome, skinny, and fresh out of undergrad, Lomax and Wickerham jumped at the opportunity extended to them by Open Space in October 2009 to put together King Me, their first collaborative post-grad exhibition. While creating the work involved a lot of effort in and of itself, DUOX decided to coordinate additional events, produce an obtuse press release, hand-make its promotional postcards, and plan a cool exit from the opening in a car, which they parked halfway inside the gallery. While all this led to cheers and congratulations from peers and attendees, the overall installation—a sea of telephone books, sawhorses, string, and various surfaces layered with magazine clippings of genitalia and male celebrities—felt a little empty. Video works and beer cans were given equal visual weight, with both ideas and inside jokes unresolved and uncommunicated. The result was something like walking through the remnants of an awesome party that you had not attended.
Disconnected motifs and an obsession with minute details are acknowledged parts of DUOX’s art-making practice. Things that appear again and again in their installations are dry cleaners, zebra stripes, key chains, and the human body. “We are interested in the individual, the possibilities of one’s life, and finding new paths. So the work is never going to be just an example of us figuring that out, it will be more inclusive,” Wickerham writes.
DUOX’s Museum of Modern Twink, which was a part of Baltimore Pride last year, was an entirely self-motivated exhibition, from securing the space to promotion and manning the gallery for the duration of the show. In this show, Wickerham and Lomax chose to highlight pop-culture icons, brands, patterns, and the body (although in many cases dismembered pieces of the body) as subjects, with a tongue-in cheek preciousness. Reclaiming the idea of the museum and the viewing experience, DUOX hung a dense, loud show in the space. A large green wall work assembled from many smaller canvases featured the word ear spray-painted in the upper right corner, small clay masks in black and hot pink, the Fruit of the Loom logo painted on layered monochrome canvases, all hanging from the wall by a chain. On the opposite wall, a small painting of Justin Bieber and large photocopy prints of Casper the Friendly Ghost hung with the words missing and reward above and below the cartoon character. The center of the room was an eclectic array of floral-print cushions, magazines, blue and green heads on poles, bumblebee jackets, and a video of a young man being covered in baby powder and other materials by the artists. Microphones stood awaiting audience participation, and synchronized reading performances took place during the opening reception. Rather than include other artists, a survey of ideas, or be subject to a curator or theme, the show favored a fleeting sensibility through events (one-time performances), decay (crushed Zebra Cakes under Plexiglass), and crude installation with tape, chains, and clunky fixtures—the opposite of what we associate with an art museum. With their “museum,” DUOX questioned institutional methodology and the idea of art versus artifact, plus the increased pace at which that relationship is changing.
DUOX seems to work best under both time and space constraints. Selected by Sue Spaid from local gallery Open Space as one of its three nominees for Liste, Lomax and Wickerham were given a project room of approximately 11-feet-by-22-feet and only a few weeks from notification to exhibition to make the work for the show. “We weren’t even sure at the beginning of May what we were going to do for the Liste,” Wickerham writes. In the limitations of the small project space, the skill and adroitness of these two young artists was focused into three pieces: a video projection and two sculptures. Taking into consideration Liste’s quick turnaround, the late May opening, and the museum’s lack of air conditioning, DUOX created “Ice Purses,” which melted with a satisfying quickness during the opening and first day of the show. The purses themselves were two giant cubes of ice, with various objects (mouthwash, key chains, cell phones, CDs, etc.) frozen within, suspended from an engine hoist. As they melted, items would fall from them into a (fishless) fish tank below. Beneath the table, elements from past installations, zebra print and keychains, reappeared in a minimal arrangement.
In “Fur Bench,” the artists recreated a bench from a porn video, using soft white upholstery. Parts of the bench are faux finished with rock-spray paint, and a flat-screen TV is ratcheted to the bench as a shelf for the attached BlackBerry phone. The TV speakers play slow audio of Beyoncé’s “Disappear,” and the phone plays a video of the two artists wearing camouflage masks washing each other in the shower. The ice drips and altered audio in the dark room make for an uncomfortable, voyeuristic effect, like catching someone dancing in the mirror, stuck halfway between humor and intrusion.
When asked about humor in DUOX’s work, Lomax answers: “The humor in our work is to provide an alternative to mundane things . . . If we had to suggest a specific form of comedy, the work we do is more like stand up, sometimes self-deprecating, self-indulgent, but with hopes of arriving at something with substance. And we’re constantly ready to be heckled.” For the Liste installation, a video piece projected on the back wall of a figure in a hard hat lightened the mood with flashes of hand-made fashion, customized accessories (a flower-printed box cutter necklace), and a variety of carefully selected items on or around his person.
Reigning in their propensity for clutter and dense installation, DUOX rose to the occasion and presented a museum-quality show. Mixing a frank openness and humor with an ongoing interest in spectacle and style, their work was simultaneously concise and mysterious. “I hope people leave thinking more about themselves than us. And as they come into contact with more things, they see them with more potential, more flexibility,” Wickerham writes. And without further explanation, that’s what we’ll have to do.