Every summer I run an art camp, and every year the most popular week is "CrAzY ArT" where we plan unusual projects that most schools might not normally allow because they are messy, might not follow curriculum, or "standards."
This year I decided to try to make one projects based on the work of Ross Bonfanti and his concrete stuffed animals. They are creepy in some ways, and one has to destroy the toy in order to make the art... this fits right in with our "CrAzY ArT" week. Dissect a toy, and remake it in an unusual way.
It was... messy, and should I do it again, certainly some adjustments... but I think it will be interesting. I still do not know what they will look like, but I am getting some insights.
We got a ton of stuffed toys at the local flea market, 2 for a buck. Goodwill is also a source for these. Remember they will be filled with concrete, so you want the ones that have legs that connect with the body, not those that are sewn onto the body. Pressing with you finger tips, you can feel how the connections are made... and you'll get some strange looks. Thin legs are bad, chubby ones are easier to work with.
We sliced up the back of the head, though you could also cut between the ears. Sharp scissors, or an exacto will work, but you need to be able to get your hand into the body, so cut accordingly. Store the fluff and beads for a later project. Check that the cadavers are truly clear. Needle nose pliers were helpful.
Prepare your area for cement. We chose a sand mix, it finer. It took three 60 pound bags to fill 20 small stuffed animals, $4 per bag. Use gloves as concrete is slightly caustic. We used bowls and wooden spoons to mix, and 4 oz. paint cups to measure. 4 level scoops of cement, and 2 not-quite full scoops of water seemed to do the trick. It should be peanut-butter thick, not soupy, and not crumbly. A little moisture is okay.
We stirred and spooned it in with dollar store wood spoons and gloved hands to pack it in. Start with the feet and pack them well. Use the stick end of the spoon to ram it in. Squeeze to feel if the cement is all the way in. Then pack the "butt" and be sure the bear/animal can sit. We added a ball of foil to the belly to lighten it a bit, and surrounded that with cement. Then stuffed the arms, and another ball of foil in the head surrounded with cement.
Some animals slumped under the weight, so a sharpened dowel was jammed through. We assumed we'd need to clip the holes shut, but they seemed okay with pressure to hold them closed. We put them on a plastic covered table to sit overnight with a fan on them.
As we reviewed the projects, some things came up.
#1. Dissecting takes about 1 full hour to do well, plus prepping foil.
#2. Teaching cement work and prepping with gloves took about 30 min.
#3. Filling the animal took an hour to do well.
#4. Cover tables aggressively. Paper was not a good cover. Heavy duty garbage bags, cardboard, or vinyl table cloths would have been better.
Filling with cement can be done in 2 sessions, legs and butt in 1 class period, but put in a bunch of toothpicks, wires, or something, so new cement will stick better to old cement the next day.
If I had to do it over, we would have filled cement the next day, we rushed it, and some bears, we can tell, are not fully filled, but we have a fix. The last image below shows how the artist fills voids with found items. We have lots of craft supplies to fill the voids and picked up some concrete glue to help from Home Depot. It will make them extra creepy. This is where we will personalize the animals to be expressive of the student, otherwise this would remain a craft based project. We can also stain the concrete with paint to add a dash of color should we need to.
We have yet to "Skin" the animals, and look at how it all worked out. That will be my next post. Wish us luck. We have NO idea what will happen...
Complete Project now posted HERE.