Sean Kenney: Art with LEGO bricks
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Sean speaks with the BBC     ‹ Back to portfolio
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BBC Radio Arts Extra, BBC Radio, 28-January 2008

Transcript:

[ Musical introduction ]

Robbie Merideth, Host:
Music by indie band "The Macabees" there, and if you were listening carefully you'll have realized the very special anniversary in Copenhagen which we're celebrating on the programme tonight. It was an event which transformed toys and arguably revolutionized childhood itself; it's something that will resonate with anyone who's ever created a bright red fire station, a space shuttle, or a family home on the rug in front of the fireplace. Yes, at exactly 2 minutes to 2 in the afternoon, 50 years ago today, a man called Gotfried Kirk Christanisen filed a patent for the LEGO brick with its iconic stud and hole design. And since then of course, LEGO has made the equivilant of a staggering 62 bricks for every person on the planet, and inspired the young -- and not so young -- to become architects and designers in their own front room.

On the line, are two LEGO devotees, artist Sean Kenney from New York, and from London, John Cake, also known as "The Little Artist". John, what is it about the design of LEGO that's so special?

John Cake:
It's just really easy to use and to make anything happen that you see in your head!

Robbie:
And Sean, I know you are one of only five professional LEGO builders in the world and you do a lot of art with LEGO -- how on earth did you get a job like that?

Sean Kenney:
Ha ha! Well, you can start by staying 12 years old and not growing up any! I basically have been playing with LEGO toys since I was a little kid, which was 30 years ago, and I never really grew out of it. And before long, people were calling me up and saying "Hey, I love all those really great LEGO things you have on your web site, can you make me this", or "can you make me that" and I started funding my career on those commissions.

Robbie:
John, is that where you get your interest in LEGO also, as a child?

John:
Yeah, it was just something we had around; it was the only toy both me and Darren had ... he's also from "The Little Artists" ... It just kind of stuck with us. We never thought we had to grow out of it, ever. It's just fascinating, you used it to make sense of your ideas.

Robbie:
I believe it was something, as was the attraction for all of us, John... was that it was something you could really just build anything with it, wasn't it?

John:
Yeah, it's kind of. Obviously we've built art but we've also, years ago, we'd build TV sets or computers or even large-scale prison complexes, something really cynical.

Robbie:
Sean, I suppose the attraction is that it's almost a perfect design, because it's so simple, and yet so versitile, and so easy to use.

Sean:
I agree, that's one of the things I really love about working with LEGO toys -- It's just a little rectangle, right? And anybody can recognize it; you can pick it up and literally make anything with it. I think one of the most complicated things you can do is to try to make an organic shape using just these little plastic rectangles, but, like any other medium -- whether it's clay or paint -- if you just put your mind to it, you can do anything. It's really fascinating.

Robbie:
Sean, we'll get into some of your work as well, you've exhibited LEGO in art galleries ... How did that all come about?

Sean:
It's been, I think, a lucky fortunate turn of events. I think a lot of people that see my work become very inspired. I have artists coming in and out of my studio all the time that are really fascinated by the medium; they've never seen anything like it; it's really very new and very fresh. And as a result, occasionally a gallery or someone else will be interested and will say "Hey, lets put this on display and show this to even more people," and then there's just no stop to it.

I think that when you look at a LEGO sculpture you can really visualize how it was put together. Unlike when you look at something that's perhaps made out of clay or bronze or paint, anyone -- even a child -- can visualize themselves doing that. I like to think that helps spark creativity in the viewer, especially in the case of a child, who can then go home and be creative themselves. And I think that because it connects with everyone on such a personal level, it becomes exciting to anyone who sees it.

Robbie:
John, yourself and Darren, "The Little Artists", you've also replicated the Turner Prize in LEGO. What's the strangest thing you've ever made with LEGO?

John:
Ha ha! It's probably a piece by an Italian artist called Mauricio Catalan, which was a tree in the middle of Milan, and they hung three wax effogies of children in it. Very controversial at the time, it lasted a day before it was taken down. But I think that's probably the strangest thing. Scared a few people!

Robbie:
Absolutely. Sean, finally to you, and briefly, can LEGO bricks survive another 50 years?

Sean:
I think they certainly can! They've lasted generations already and no one seems to be complaining about them -- other than when you step on them in the middle of the night -- But it's sort of an "evergreen" product, it's the kind of thing, no matter who you are, young and old, you can just pick it up and figure out how to use it. I don't envision it going anywhere anytime soon -- I think this 50th birthday for the LEGO brick has sort of proven that.

Robbie:
Sean, we'll have to leave it there, we're out of time. From all of us at Arts Extra, we hope you enjoyed it. All the best and good night!
 


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