Ai Weiwei: supporters urged to fill collection cars with Lego bricks

Parked cars in Melbourne and other locations to allow donations of toy bricks after company’s refusal to help artist

A parked car transformed into a collection box to allow members of the public to donate Lego bricks to Ai Weiwei will open its roof on Thursday in Australia, at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

The Danish toy company’s refusal to sell the artist bricks had left him without the materials to make a planned major installation for an exhibition opening in December.

The artist and his studio have responded to a torrent of offers to donate bricks, with plans to park a fleet of collection box cars in cities across the world. The first has already appeared outside the artist’s studio in Beijing, its roof just open wide enough to allow bricks to be posted through – though a photograph posted later in the day showed a pretty miserable haul.

The second will be at the Melbourne gallery, which has already been inundated with offers of bricks, and is confident theirs will be an instant success. The car will be parked in the gallery’s sculpture court, roof open ready for donations.

When news broke that Lego had refused to sell Ai bricks on political grounds, offers came from admirers and fellow artists around the world to donate their own blocks – even in some cases those belonging to their children (after, it is hoped, the children had been consulted).

In a tweet to the Guardian, Ai vowed to find a way to accept them – and more collection points in other cities will follow. The artist’s studio has posted on Instagram that it would like “to rent, borrow or buy second-hand a BMW 5S Series sedan, of which the color can vary, as a Lego container”.

Yes, I will find a way to accept.

— Ai WeiWei (english) (@aiww_en) October 25, 2015

The cars must be free of any advertising, have clear windows and a sunroof that can be fixed open with a 5cm opening and should be parked and locked in a central city location, preferably with an arts or cultural context. The car should remain in place for a month, and the studio will be responsible for collecting the bricks.

The piece, the artist says, has now changed in nature, becoming a a work defending “freedom of speech and political art”.

The director of the Melbourne gallery, Tony Ellwood, who was in the artist’s Beijing studio as the controversy erupted, said: “We have received many offers of donations of Lego in the past days. People have shown generosity, creative spirit and enthusiasm to become engaged in this project, and we are pleased to be the first international collection point.

“The project began by celebrating those who stand for human rights and freedom of speech, and has inspired a groundswell of support that has developed into this inspiring project which has engaged the wider community.”

Ai has used Lego blocks in several earlier pieces, notably in a massive floor mosaic with portraits of political activists and prisoners, including Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Nelson Mandela, which he installed in the prison island of Alcatraz in California.

Ai Weiwei’s Trace installation last year at Alcatraz in San Francisco, US.
Ai Weiwei’s Trace installation last year at Alcatraz in San Francisco, US. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

However when his studio tried to buy bricks for the Melbourne project, he was told that they wouldn’t sell them, as they “cannot approve the use of Legos for political works”.

A Lego spokesman told the Guardian: “We respect any individual’s right to free creative expression, and we do not censor, prohibit or ban creative use of Lego bricks.”

However, “as a company dedicated to delivering great creative play experiences to children”, it would not active engage with or condone projects with a political agenda, such as by making bulk sales.


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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