Born in Seattle, Washington, T.J. Wilcox became interested in European history as a child and made an animated Super-8 film in his fifth-grade art class. In 1983 he moved to New York to study at the School of Visual Arts where he received his BFA in 1989. He received his MFA in 1995 from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Wilcox was originally a painter, but in graduate school he became more interested in film: ". . .the sense of being surrounded by the film industry affected me. . .I had been a painter and I approached my films from that perspective—I was interested in the palette of colors film offered, composing the frame, creating layers of information. . .also film’s ability to contain and reveal so much information simultaneously. . .I wasn’t able to accomplish this through painting. You can approach a story from its official history, or from its history in a popular magazine, and then from rumored passed on history.”
Wilcox has made several films based on famous figures from history and pop culture. In 1996, he moved back to New York and produced The Escape (of Marie Antoinette) (1996). In this 12-minute film, he includes drawings of her carriage from historical footage of a procession around Notre Dame, short scenes from 1950s American melodramas, and images of an early 1990s model on a catwalk. These images are unified through subtitles in which he reinvents the French queen’s history.
Wilcox’s process involves shooting the films on Super-8 film. The films are then transferred to video for editing, and finally printed onto 16mm film for projection. Because of the transfers, the films colors shift, causing them to attain a grainy, worn texture. During post-production, segments of the film are cut and collaged. Wilcox arranges and rearranges units of meaning, divorcing bits of film from their original narrative and recombining them anew. The continuous layering increases the density of the film, collapsing the distinctions between fact and fiction, objectivity and subjectivity, biography and autobiography.
For In the Air (2013), Wilcox changed his process. He switched from filming to shooting stills, which improved the resolution. He downgraded his equipment from five complex cameras to ten relatively small, rugged GoPro cameras to photograph the New York City panorama at a rate of one photograph per second. The resulting 60,000 photographs were individually processed, and then animated and sped up, using a computer program that seamlessly stitched the images together, eliminating distortions and making light levels more even.
Wilcox’s films are often silent and subtitled. They are projected in the gallery space, accompanied only by the whirring sound of the 16mm film projector. The short distance between the projected image and its source activates the space between, creating an almost sculptural, three-dimensional experience. In addition, Wilcox often exhibits collaged photographed images relating to the videos. In the Air marks Wilcox’s third showing at the Whitney, after earlier inclusions in the 2004 and 1997 Biennial exhibitions.
Anne Collier, “Interview with TJ Wilcox,” BOMB, Issue 11 Spring 2010. http://bombsite.com/issues/111/articles/3453
Consulted October 15, 2013.