#LegosForWeiwei goes viral as the artist protests what he calls “an act of censorship and discrimination.”
Image via Instagram / aiww
Everything may be awesome for the characters in 2014’s The Lego Movie, but out here in the real world, things are decidedly more complicated. For proof, look no further than Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, whose bulk order of Lego blocks was recently rejected by the Danish toy company on the grounds, claims Ai, that they cannot support “political works.”
In September Lego refused Ai Weiwei Studio's request for a bulk order of Legos to create artwork to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria as "they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works." On Oct 21, a British firm formally announced that it will open a new Legoland in Shanghai as one of the many deals of the U.K.-China "Golden Era."
A photo posted by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on
As he explains on his Instagram, Ai had planned to use the blocks for an upcoming art exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, after having used Legos for a previous exhibit at Alcatraz, in which he created portraits of notable dissidents out of the toy bricks. In a later post, depicting a toilet bowl full of Legos, he expanded:
"We're here to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow" (twitter.com/LEGO_Group) In June 2015 Ai Weiwei Studio began to design artworks which would have required a large quantity of Lego bricks to produce. The works were planned for the exhibition "Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei" at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, to open in December 2015. The artworks' concept relates to freedom of speech. The museum's curatorial team contacted Lego to place a bulk order and received Lego's reply via email on 12 September 2015: "We regret to inform you that it is against our corporate policy to indicate our approval of any unaffiliated activities outside the LEGO licensing program. However, we realize that artists may have an interest in using LEGO elements, or casts hereof, as an integrated part of their piece of art. In this connection, the LEGO Group would like to draw your attention to the following: The LEGO trademark cannot be used commercially in any way to promote, or name, the art work. The title of the artwork cannot incorporate the LEGO trademark. We cannot accept that the motive(s) are taken directly from our sales material/copyrighted photo material. The motive(s) cannot contain any political, religious, racist, obscene or defaming statements. It must be clear to the public that the LEGO Group has not sponsored or endorsed the art work/project. Therefore I am very sorry to let you know that we are not in a position to support the exhibition Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei by supplying the bulk order." Ai Weiwei Studio was informed by NGV about Lego's rejection of the bulk order. As a commercial entity, Lego produces and sells toys, movies and amusement parks attracting children across the globe. As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values. Lego's refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination.
A photo posted by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on
Speaking with CNN, Lego spokesperson Roar Rude Trangbaek explained that company policy is such that “we refrain — on a global level — from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of Lego bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda.” He goes on to explain that Lego will turn down “donations or support for projects — such as the possibility of purchasing Lego bricks in very large quantities, which is not possible through normal sales channels — where we are made aware that there is a political context.” Through his art and activism, Ai Weiwei has become known as one of the fiercest — and most creative — critics of the Chinese government, and points to plans for an upcoming Legoland amusement park to be built in Shanghai as proof of the toy company’s double standard.
In response to Lego’s actions, Ai Weiwei’s fans have flooded the artist with donations of their own Lego bricks, as well as support online, using the hashtag #LegosForWeiwei. For his part, Ai has set up a mailing address to which fans can send him their bricks:
Via Twitter / @aiww
In response to Lego’s rejection, Ai has announced plans for “a new work to defend freedom of speech and ‘political art’” with additional brick collection points to be established in different cities around the world.
So, while this is probably not what Lego had in mind when they turned down Ai’s initial request, it seems that, for the artist, everything may end up being awesome after all.