What started several years ago as a 20-minute writing exercise in a graduate class has evolved into a new art installation dreamed up by photographer Stephen DeSantis, in which he explores the age-old Boy Scouts motto, “Be Prepared.”
As a graduate student in Chicago, DeSantis started his writing assignment pondering over Girl Scout cookies and fundraising. The theme stuck with him, and a friend gave him two scouting guidebooks from the 1950s. These instructional relics brought to light another theme: gender roles.
“I noticed in the guidebooks that the boys did one thing and girls did another thing,” DeSantis says. “I wanted to tackle the idea of how gender identity and gender roles changed since the 1950s.”
Two years ago, he was serving as special projects director for the provost at Columbia College Chicago, where he was surrounded by millennials who helped fuel his project. He began photographing creative colleagues in traditional scouting attire in situations that challenged the directives of being prepared and sticking to gender ideals.
“Planning my contribution for a grad alumni exhibition, I noticed windows at the Uptown Arts Center in the Preston Bradley Center that were in hallways and balconies that could be seen, but not necessarily used,” DeSantis says. “So I proposed an installation … where I would install images in a way that would look like stained glass in a church as a way to tell the ‘Be Prepared’ story with a visual narrative.”
The historic Preston Bradley Center, built in 1926, proved to be the ideal location for modern-meets-traditional art installation. Using a 60-inch Epson SureColor 30670 solvent printer, DeSantis printed images to fill three sets of windows with 24 panes per set on LexJet Simple Low Tack Clear Vinyl.
“I ran a test on the product, scaled the images for the windows and installed it on the windows in my apartment,” he says. “It did exactly what I wanted it to do. The resolution was wonderful and it was an incredibly easy-to-use product.”
After testing with wet and dry methods of installing the vinyl, DeSantis choose the wet method that worked better to eliminate bubbles. Once the panels were installed, indirect sunlight created interesting color patterns on the wall and floors, while interior light in the evenings gave the images a haunting glow that could be seen outside.
“The feedback I received has been wonderful,” DeSantis says. “People love the images and are very curious about the process.”