Here they are. Two LEGO mini figures and their Pilates teacher. Lying on the floor, sitting up. Lying back on the floor, sitting up. Lying back on the floor. Stretching their spines. It’s a GIF. A two frame animation. On a loop. Ad infinitum. It’s a tough class. Relentless. Pilates isn’t like this, is it?

This scene was made at the Museum of Contemporary Commodities’ (MoCC) Free Market in London’s Finsbury Park in July 2015. It was one of a number of LEGO re-creations made that day to add to the Museum’s collection. Free Market visitors sat at a table full of bricks and minifigures and were asked to think of a moment of exchange involving money, commodities, experience. Something they’d been involved in recently. Could they make it in LEGO? Create what Adult Fans of LEGO call a ‘vig’ – a vignette – scene, and then animate it as a two or three photo GIF, to focus some playful attention on that moment, to see how this might help us to think more deeply about trade, exchange and commodities.

If you’ve seen the LEGO movie, you’ll remember the film’s central, dramatic tension between the ordered building of boxed LEGO sets according to the instructions and the freestyle ‘off plan’ LEGOing that draws upon a person’s eclectic mix of bricks, minifigures and props. This is the LEGO memory that this MoCC interaction is based upon: the critical, anarchic, unresolvable, thought-provoking dramas that are made and played in LEGO by children – and artists, academics and others working in the field of ‘Political LEGO’. Perhaps the best know in this genre of political LEGO are the concentration camp sets made by artist Zbigniew Libera in 1996. Follow the instructions and you would make a concentration camp. But you could make something else with the same materials. That’s one powerful lesson from this controversial art work. Then there are the re-creations of scenes from the ‘war on terror’ made by the artist/activist knows as Legofesto in 2007-9. These were made, photographed and uploaded to the photo-sharing site Flickr, in albums called ‘Guantanamo Bay‘, ‘Abu Ghraib‘ and ‘Darfur‘, with captions and links to original images and news stories about violence, intimidation, torture and murder.

LEGO theorists argue that the making, photographing, viewing and sharing online of Political LEGO re-creations does important pedagogic work. Teachers and activists have known for decades that, in the words of Paulo Freire “knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (2005, 257). But what can LEGO add to this? What does it bring to the table? For some, the power of LEGO art is the way that you can look at it and immediately understand how it was made. If you have played with LEGO before, it’s relatively easy to work out how you could make it yourself, or someone like it. As Tim Ingold puts it, this is the kind of work that “invites the viewer to join the artist as a fellow traveler, to look with it as it unfolds in the world” (2010, 97). For us, it’s the way that it can allow a focus and discussion on the tiniest relations between people, ideas and commodities. The art of LEGO exaggerates and lampoons these relations in miniature, especially when you make a GIF that repeats a movement, a gesture, an interaction, ad infinitum, in a loop.

These kind of creative making tasks can shift thought in a way that talk and reflection alone may not. You’re making worlds, focusing in on a brief moment of life, like an out of body LEGO experience – leaving your body and looking down at yourself doing something mundane, taken-for-granted, everyday. Over and over. You’re wearing those clothes you bought to go to that class that you paid to attend. You’re lying down on those special mats on the floor, next to someone else who’s doing what you’re doing. You’re both doing what the instructor says. The instruction that you paid for. To tone your core. Which needs toning because…

 MoCC will be political LEGO-ing from 14:00-16:30pm on Saturday 17th October at Furtherfield Commons as part of LAB #1 in Furtherfield’s Art Data Money series. The lab is free to attend but booking is recommended. Find out more here.

Ian Cook 14.10.15


Freire, P (2005) The Banking Concept of Education, in Bartholomae, D. (ed) Ways of Reading (7th ed). New York: St Martin’s Press, 255-267

Ingold, T (2010) The Textility of Making. Cambridge Journal of Economics 34 91-102

Baichtal, J and Meno, J (2011) The cult of LEGO. San Francisco, No Starch

Bramadi L (2013) Legoramart: well played, live art. Los Angeles: Muttpop

Wolf, M ed (2014) Lego Studies: examining the building blocks of a transmedia phenomenon. London, Routledge