Evan Bancroft stood at the entrance of a 65-foot-long, balloon-like tunnel, wearing black-framed glasses with their lenses popped out, and clenching a fat unlit cigar between his teeth. Across from him, his partner in crime Mike Plummer stood dressed for the nuclear apocalypse in an all-white HAZMAT jumpsuit. These two were the creative minds behind “S***, Shower, and Shave,” a one-day installation art piece at the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC), where, as they said, “mischief [was] the motive.”
“S***, Shower and Shave” was Plummer and Bancroft’s latest joint effort. Since 2009, the two have been working together as part of “Garage
Spaces,” a collaborative of performance and installation artists. Their most recent piece–on display at HPAC for one day only–was a white inflatable enclosure that viewers could enter and then spray the s*** out of each other with shaving cream. While the title may seem misleading to some, Bancroft and Plummer’s explanation makes a great deal of sense: the work is a tongue-and-cheek inversion of the banality of a common morning routine. Bancroft described the intended effect as “very playful and very meditative.”
The sense of wonder and mischief that pervades the piece is directly influenced by child’s play. Both artists work in education–Plummer works for the Chicago Public Schools while Bancroft runs a nonprofit that teaches kids about art. Bancroft and Plummer take inspiration from the way that children take mundane objects and use them in a way that subverts their original intent. According to Bancroft, “creation [is] a way of exploring.” Plummer agreed, stating, “I ask questions as an artistic practice.” When asked if he would classify himself as an artist, Bancroft thought for a second then proclaimed with a chuckle, “ne’er-do-well and mess-maker.”
Their art is not just fun and games, however, and under the surface of silliness, the projects that the duo undertake have a more profound social purpose. Central to their work is a desire to bring people together through shared participation in art. When pressed about the success of the installation, Bancroft commented that their works are, “only as strong as the people in them.”
The reactions from passersby spoke to the community’s willingness to indulge in cathartic shenanigans. Upon observing a group of children gearing up for battle, a woman suggested with a smile, “You guys are going to have fun in there,” to which one of the children gleefully affirmed, “I’m going to get in there and go crazy.” Watching Plummer and Bancroft help the children prepare for the coming onslaught reinforced much of what they discussed as the installation’s intent, the synthesis of mischief and playfulness. As the children began to chase each other, shaving cream canisters aloft, it seemed a foregone conclusion that we could all use more of these mischievous spaces.