When you’re a kid, adults get you to sort of wrap your entire identity up in a individual nouns. What’s your favorite color? What’s your favorite food? Your answers to these things define you for the better part of your childhood. I like green and anyone who doesn’t like green is an idiot. And, when it comes to animals, the concept of a favorite takes on a more powerful role. Because animals are living things, that spark of consciousness wrapped in fur or feathers and exerting itself in the strangest ways, a favorite animal becomes almost like a spirit guide. Most of the time, people are socialized, taught to chase social status and financial wealth, and their spirit animal gets tossed aside with stuffed toys and other childish things. For Paul Lopes, however, he retained his spirit guide long into adulthood. For him, the aardvark is still his entire identity. When Paul was younger, he drew a doodle of an aardvark. That aardvark has since transmuted into a number of forms, a stuffed animal, a PVC squeaky toy, a costume, a LEGO sculpture, and, due to the growing popularity of additive manufacturing, a couple of 3D printed versions. Paul says, “The original drawing was produced 22 years ago.” After becoming the editor of his local newspaper, The Wanderer, he’s incorporated the creature into the black and white pages, embedding a tiny aardvark into every issue of the paper. If you “find the aardvark”, you can win a small prize. The prizes, sometimes a gift basket, include things like stuffed versions of the animal, with Paul saying, “[After making that drawing] I had some stuffed animals made. A few years later I created the model and had the PVC squeaky toy produced. The toy itself was manufactured in China from my original.” Paul tells me that the PVC versions were meant to be customized by people to make their own special aardvarks. In addition to getting an aardvark costume, with which to attend local events like Boston Comic Con, Paul enlisted the help of Dirk Denoyelle, a Belgian “LEGO Certified Professional” to construct an aardvark out of LEGOs. 3D printing has since allowed Paul to create some 3D printed iterations. What you see below are some aardvarks printed from polyamide by Materialise, with the velvet coating option provided by the service bureau. Paul explains that “the aardvark is part of The Aardvark Project,” website currently under construction, “which is an art project aimed at stimulating the reactive side of everyone.”
As we get older, we learn that our identities aren’t tied to individual nouns. Not even our names, meant to singularly pick us out of a long history of humans, can capture the entirety of what we are. And, if we can hang onto the magic maintained by our original favorite animals, we soon learn that our identities are defined by every noun. Looking at Paul in this way, For the aardvark is only the beginning of a dictionary of words that makes up his entire being.