Phaidon’s new book Do It Yourself brings together fun and easy projects from some of the most exciting artists and designers working today. In this excerpt, Ai Weiwei shows us how to make some super-cute stuffed animals with a decidedly anti-authoritarian streak.
Fabric Puppet by Ai Weiwei
Time: 90 min
Cost: U.S. $15/ £10/ €13
At first glance, these sock puppets seem like nothing more than kids’ toys. But, as so often with the work of the Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei, there’s more to them than meets the eye. In 2009, the video of an innocuous children’s song, showing grazing alpaca camels, went viral on YouTube in China. In China, the alpaca is caonima, and this is also a rather earthy and popular insult to the receiver’s mother in Mandarin. Within days, the alpaca had turned into a way of symbolically flipping the bird to censorship of the Internet in China. This is a theme that Ai Weiwei has gratefully seized on ever since, as with his alpaca puppet for this book.
WHAT YOU NEED
(Old) sock. Scissors. Marker. Sewing needle. Buttons (for the eyes).
Dried beans. Wadding or cotton wool. Thread.
1. Choose socks and turn them inside out.
2. Use a marker to mark out the first area to stitch as shown.
3. Stitch together at marks, so that the sock forms a right angle. Mark the second area on the sole and sew the marks together.
4. Mark the third area to stitch and sew closed.
5. Turn the sock right side out. First stuff it with wadding, and then weigh it down with beans.
6. Finish off with a layer of wadding, to prevent the beans from slipping, and sew the top closed.
7. Sew the tail in two steps, from point 1 to point 2.
8. Mark eyes and attach buttons. Pull out two little ears over the eyes, and tie them with threads.
Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing and is viewed as the most important Chinese artist in the world today. His work covers varied disciplines — photography, installation, and sculpture — and it turns a critical eye on human rights abuses, exploitation, and pollution in his native land. Ai was also involved in the design of the national stadium in Beijing (the “Bird’s Nest”). In 2012 he won the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. He lives freely in Beijing but is not allowed to travel abroad.