If you've recently come across a tiny model rabbit in an unexpected place, you're not the only one. Disseminating tiny rabbit shapes among unsuspecting recipients seems to have become something of a covert phenomenon among hacker and maker circles, with the little plastic animals making their way across the globe from several separate sources.
In the past couple of weeks, I've come across two entirely unrelated projects that are scattering their homemade bunny-shaped trinkets as far and wide as possible, unaware that their missions are coincidentally united by the emblem they've separately chosen. As a result, little plastic rabbits seem to be multiplying as fast as their real-life counterparts.
I first came across the rabbit phenomenon at Electromagnetic Field Festival in the UK last month, when little laser-cut rabbit shapes—bright red, about one centimetre across, and with a tiny star shape as an eye—positively littered the event site. No one really seemed to know where they'd come from or why they were there.
I eventually tracked down the creators through some contacts I'd made at the festival, though they asked to remain anonymous so as not to spoil the surprise in future outings.
They insisted that their work wasn't intended as an art project. "I think that attempting to define something as patently ridiculous at this as 'art' is, well, a bit silly. This is something that is just daft. It makes random people's days a little bit more surreal, and hopefully a little more fun," wrote one of them in an email. That said, the UK-based makers generally gave the kind of flourishingly cryptic and opaque responses to my questions I'd usually associate with art grads rather than hackers.
Reading between the lines, I gathered that the project had probably come around largely by chance. "We had a large amount of free perspex, and a large laser cutter. It seemed like a good idea," one of them wrote. He added that the star-shaped eye was a good test for the laser cutter, as it's such a small shape so close to the edge of the body.
This is something that is just daft. It makes random people's days a little bit more surreal.
A few weeks after I'd encountered the thousands of red rabbits, 3Dprint.com wrote about a New York-based project, Mysterabbit, which seemed to have much the same goal: distributing tiny rabbit figurines as abundantly at possible. These were white, 3D-printed, and depicted a bunny meditating with crossed legs and holding a dodecahedron:
"The end goal of the project is to spread a little bit of mystery around the world," Ji Lee, the coordinator of the team behind Mysterabbit, told me. An artist who has a day job working in marketing at Facebook, he explained that the rabbit project was an extension from a previous work, Bubble Project, which entailed sticking speech bubbles on advertisements for passers-by to write in. "I got into a lot of problems with law enforcement, because obviously it's illegal to do vandalism," said Lee.
He wanted to do something that would interrupt people's surroundings in a similar way without defacing anything, so he hired a manufacturer to 3D print 10,000 of the meditating rabbits.
While the hack group behind the laser-cut rabbits seem to have chosen the bunny shape mainly on a whim (possibly with some inspiration from Watership Down), Lee had clearly thought hard about the figure for his project. He said that he'd initially designed 10,000 Buddhas, but decided to opt for something with less of a religious overtone.
He chose the white rabbit for its connotations of mystery in Alice in Wonderland. "Also, the rabbit is a symbol of fertility and a symbol of multiplication," he added. The intention behind Mysterabbit still has some links to Buddhism, insofar as it sets out to make people "stop and enjoy the moment."
People are invited to take part in Mysterabbit by requesting a handful of free rabbits to disperse at their will; a map on the project site shows them as scattered as Argentina, Zambia, and South Korea. As for the red rabbits, I gathered they were distributed on a more ad-hoc basis, but had got as far as Canada, Sweden, and Germany—likely disseminated at hacker fests and other similar events.
With both projects, the intrigue is less in the figures themselves—simple toys almost anyone could put together—and more in their sheer abundance. They're turning up everywhere.
They're turning up everywhere.
The projects, and the very fact that two very similar ideas seem to have occurred simultaneously across the Atlantic, are something of a testament to the democratisation of making, enabled by methods such as 3D-printing and laser-cutting. Want to get involved? Just head to a hackspace, borrow the tools, and make a few thousand of your own.
It's at once an art project, a bit of fun with machines, and an in-joke between those in the know. One festival attendee confided in me that he liked to "reverse pickpocket" people with them so they'd mysteriously discover the little red rabbits on their person at some future occasion. That perhaps explains how I found one in my kitchen days later.