Sondheim Finalists 2015: Wickerham & Lomax's maximalist-capitalist installation builds a dystopian but not-too-distant Baltimore

Gigantic frat paddles and messy, du-ragged mannequin busts are part of Wickerham & Lomax’s maximalist dystopia.
Gigantic frat paddles and messy, du-ragged mannequin busts are part of Wickerham & Lomax’s maximalist dystopia. (Courtesy of Baltimore Office of Promotion and The Arts)

Eight Shaquille O’Neal-sized frat pledge paddles decorated with Greek lettering, chains, nets, and covered with digital collages of red Solo cups, doves, and Dora the Explorer, among other things, stand up straight, are mounted up high, or gently lean against the walls in Wickerham & Lomax’s installation. It’s an over-the-top, late-capitalistic, post-apocalyptic SMH @ frat culture—made particularly vicious thanks to the BMA’s proximity to Johns Hopkins University—and, like the rest of the duo’s work here, shoots Baltimore and all of its problems through a hyperstylized retro-futuristic lens.

The focus of the installation is 'BOY'Dega,' a cyberpunk-ish television/web series set in a broken-down Baltimore of the distant future, which we slowly understand by way of three screens, two projecting ornate and lengthy videos ('Boy'Dega Bootleg') and one featuring an incredibly complex web-based interface which you navigate via a big fat Microsoft mouse. There are six intertwining characters—played by locals including Adam Schwarz, Anoushe Shoja-Chaghorvand, and CP contributors Abdu Ali Eaton and Lawrence Burney—and it's kind of like an episode of "Degrassi" mashed up with "C.S.I." dragged through the landscape of "Myst III" as written by some kid cranking out "X-Files" fan fiction on Angelfire. A standout is the video clip that accompanies the page(s) dedicated to Justice (Schwarz's character) featuring a cheaply 3-D-modeled Baltimore Police Department car along with security camera footage and shaky shots of Baltimore City—an oblique, ominous reminder of the city's police-state surveillance.

Across the gallery, opposite the screen-based pieces, hang two massive vinyl club fliers for a series of parties scheduled for the immediate future 2018 at a made-up place called Khroma Klub, a kind of cool meeting ground for our characters, it would seem. One poster, 'Immaculate Conception,' features a gold-dipped female-bodied figure with fur and a weird lil' dick, and on the other, 'Anti-Gravity,' a nightclub setting is rendered in CGI with what can be best described as "butt purses" floating around. These sci-fi genderfucked images seem to contrast with the corporate, masculine ridiculousness of the frat paddles. Nearby, a light box that looks like some kind of cigarette advertisement is adorned with an Ursula K. Le Guin quote, and near two of the paddles some beach towels with the same imagery as the paddles hang on metal rods, and on the floor, mannequin busts are caked in rocks, dirt, bird seed, and cigarette butts and they're sporting du-rags—a messy respite from the perfectly rendered hot-mess maximalism of most of the installation.

What do you do with too much? Infinite access, or at least the illusion of it, has turned everybody into “curators”—there’s so much in our heads, on our phones, invading our ears and eyes, and everything else, we’ve got to do something with it all—and Wickerham & Lomax’s work here is all about abundance, accepting it, riffing on it, mitigating it, and vomiting it up into some kind of late-’90s aesthetic explosion applied to Baltimore’s current problems, be it police brutality, poverty, or gentrification. One of the ‘BOY’Dega Bootleg’ clips provides us with a digital menu of food products which mock bougie food descriptions by way of a dada turnt alt-lit-like poesy: “O Face: An Orioles hat is filled with hard boiled eggs pitched at patron which these items are served. $19.” Even at its most bitter, it’s a funny form of protest art, and some truly world-building shit through which we can both better understand our seemingly forever-fucked city and, also, briefly escape it. (Brandon Soderberg)