How to Block a Surveillance Camera: A DIY Art Tutorial from Ai Weiwei
By Maria Popova
“When things get tough,” Neil Gaiman advised on in his fantastic commencement address on the creative life, “this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician — make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor — make good art. IRS on your trail — make good art. Cat exploded — make good art.” One could easily extrapolate, “Big Brother on your ass — make good art.” Amidst recent outcries against the present-day surveillance state we live in, what else is there to do but make good art? Cue in celebrated Chinese artist, provocateur, and human rights champion Ai Weiwei. From Do It: The Compendium (public library) — the fantastic collection of famous artists’ wide-ranging instructionals for art anyone can make based on 20 years of legendary curator and provocateur Hans Ulrich Obrist’s project of the same title, which also gave us David Lynch’s tutorial on how to make a Ricky Board — comes this antiauthoritarian creative project from Ai Weiwei, a DIY way to stick it — spray it, rather — to Big Brother:
How to make a spray device to block a surveillance camera:
Do you feel uncomfortable, confused, disgusted, or even irate because of a surveillance camera fixed at the wrong place? To block its view, spray-painting would be the best choice. It is highly accessible, inexpensive, and effective. Moreover, it is a perfect gesture in presenting street culture.
It is difficult to spray on a surveillance camera at a high place directly by hand. Instead of carrying a ladder on the streets, it is more practical to make an adjustable, easy-to-carry, and low-cost spray device.
It is best to use materials easily found from daily life to create this tool.
He goes on to list the materials needed — a spray bottle, a wine bottle opener, a bike bottle cage, a bike brake bar, a screw, and a stick — with the instruction to “choose materials that are as practical and reliable as possible” and are also “cheap and easy to obtain.” He then moves on to the step-by-step “Production Procedure”:
First find a long stick of suitable height. Considering portability, a collapsible tree pruner is recommended. Then select a stable frame that can secure a bottle or a can. For example, a bottle cage for bicycles would be a good fit. After that, find a trigger and fix it at the top of the stick. A wine bottle opener is a good choice, because its flexible lever structure can reduce the force and distance needed to press the spray nozzle.
We also need a linkage device to control the wine bottle opener at the top. A bicycle brake bar is an excellent choice.
Finally, prepare screws and nylon ropes as needed.
Under “Usage,” he instructs:
First fix the wine bottle opener at the top of the tree pruner (a.01).
Then set the spray can into the bottle cage. Make sure the handle of the bottle opener is affixed to the right position, where it gives easiest nozzle control. Use screws to secure the bottle cage (a.02). Fix the brake bar at the other end of the tree pruner (a.03).
Secure the spray paint can and use a nylon rope to fasten the flexible shaft (a.04).
Adjust the height of the stick. Then connect the handle of the bottle opener to the shaft of the brake (a.05–a.06).
The homemade adjustable spray device is now complete.
Complement this exercise in creative civic disobedience with BBC’s excellent Ai Weiwei: Without Fear or Favour.
Published July 31, 2013