One day last summer artist Meg Duguid invited friends and strangers to buy some whipped cream and join her at Wicker Park at sundown for something called Whipped Cream Fight 2000. At the park she spread an oversize red-checked tablecloth on the grass and plopped down three giant foam pancakes topped with silk pats of butter. As she poured a half gallon of maple syrup over her creation, she explained the rules of the fight to the crowd of 20 who showed up.

“You have to stay inside the play area,” she said, indicating the tablecloth. No aiming at bystanders, no “malicious intent.” Then Duguid took two cans of whipped cream out of her pockets and sprayed the first person to step onto the cloth–a guy in a green slicker. He retaliated, and a few seconds later a dozen or so people were scrambling over the pancakes, laughing, yelping, and dousing each other with whipped cream. When their cans were empty, they began scooping the whipped cream and syrup off the tablecloth and rubbing it in each others’ faces, hair, and clothing. “By the end we smelled putrid,” says Duguid. “Everyone I know had to throw out their clothes.”

Duguid graduated from the School of the Art Institute last year and was one of the instigators of last summer’s unauthorized “Pigs Are Better Than Cows” exhibit, in which she and other artists stealthily installed pig statues near the cows on Michigan Avenue one night (they were quickly removed). A few months ago Duguid, who now works at SAIC as a thesis coordinator, began planning “this year’s art project,” a series of fights organized around various materials. The “Fight 2000” series was launched in June with a cake fight in Eckhart Park. “Everyone brought a cake, and the rules were you had to eat part of it before you could throw it at anyone. There had to be five minutes of play before you could throw a whole cake at anyone. By then all of it was smeared all over everyone, so you would pull it off yourself to throw it.”

A month later Duguid announced a pillow fight at an empty apartment she was moving out of via the Reader’s performance listings. About 35 people showed up. “You’d go find a pillow, drink a beer, hit someone with the pillow, and have another beer.” Feather pillows exploded in the fray. “It looked like snow, it was so thick,” she says.

The fights have been documented on video and with photos, and Duguid hopes to eventually create some sort of exhibit out of them, perhaps incorporating the song “Do the Pillow Fight,” by her friends in the local band Descendro Allegro. “I’m really interested in people letting go and having that kind of kidlike quality,” she says. “Because everyone has it in them, and I don’t think it’s used enough.”

Her fascination with friendly combat can be traced to tussles with her older brother while growing up in Columbus, Ohio. “When my mother was gone we’d end up in these huge water fights, and we’d be trying to dry the living room out before she got home,” she says. “We had one of those spray attachments for the sink. It was the best.” There were also water gun fights in high school and an unplanned fight or two with college roommates. “It’s a theme in my life,” she says.

Duguid says people lose their inhibitions during roughhousing. “It’s the throwing,” she says. “It’s the getting dirty. Personal space disappears, which is something that doesn’t happen unless you’re in a relationship with someone or you’re a kid. You kind of have like carte blanche to do anything you want and it’s OK and everyone else is doing the exact same thing. It gets rid of the road rage.” Next summer she plans to go to Bunol, Spain, where each year there’s a town-wide tomato fight as part of the La Tomatina festival. “It’s one of the most peaceful villages in Spain,” she says. “Crime is down because every year everyone gets to get all their aggression out.”

Her next project is Pumpkin Fight 2000. “Everyone is invited to bring a pumpkin,” she says. “We’ll cut them open and I’ll collect the knives. Then we’ll sling the guts at each other.” She’ll round out the series with a Thanksgiving dinner fight, a snowball fight, and an indoor, black-tie New Year’s Eve champagne fight. “It will end on that day,” she says. “Because ‘Fight 2001’ doesn’t sound right. I can only capitalize on the date for so long.”

Pumpkin Fight 2000 takes place Saturday at 2:30 behind the field house at Eckhart Park, 1330 W. Chicago. It’s free, but you must bring a pumpkin to participate. Call 773-927-6453.

–Cara Jepsen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Eugene Zakusilo/Rodger Cooley.