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Features/Kids/Visual Art

Minifigs rule the world!

23 March 2021

What happens when the winners of LEGO Masters Series 2 are commissioned to create an exhibition? Ara Jansen catches up with Jackson Harvey and Alex Towler to learn about the intricate and intriguing world they’ve created at The Goods Shed.

Imagine you’ve been jumped into the year 2530. Humans have long since left the planet, forced to flee after mistreating their world for so long. Left in their wake are decaying artefacts and a population of industrious LEGO minifigs. “Relics: Bricks of the New World” is the world they have created out of a broken past.

An interactive exhibition, “Relics” is a wonderfully colourful combination of creativity and problem solving where art meets engineering.

An old-fashioned lift, made of lego, hangs off an old fashioned lamp-post. above the lift is a platform, on which a minifig is working. The lamp light is switched on.
Attention to detail in ‘Relics’. Image courtesy of Scribblers Festival and FORM. Photo: Taryn Hays

Creators Jackson Harvey and Alex Towler – whom you might recognise as the winners of last year’s television show LEGO Masters Series 2 – have turned Claremont’s Goods Shed exhibition space into nine separate worlds inhabited by the tiny LEGO characters (aka minifigs) who have built their new homes in wrecked objects humans have left behind. There’s been painstaking attention to detail as different worlds emerge from a wreck of a 60’s VW bug, a fridge, upright piano or arcade game.

The exhibition is a prologue to Scribblers Festival, an annual festival of literature and arts for young people, presented by WA arts organisation FORM. After Towler and Harvey created the cover for last year’s festival magazine – a healthy heart machine made from LEGO – FORM approached them to consider a bigger project.

“It was pretty ambitious because we had zero experience in doing something of this scale,” says Towler, who is an environmental engineer working in urban water and a musician. “Once we figured out the idea, we spent more than 2000 hours making it happen. My office let me take some time off and it was awesome to be able to spend those months just creating. I’ve worked harder than I ever have but it was so enjoyable and such a great challenge.”

When coming up with their concept for “Relics”, Towler says they didn’t feel inspired by, or interested in, just building a bunch of LEGO sculptures. They wanted a unique idea and started exploring what would happen if they combined that with other objects or if the LEGO sat inside some of those objects.

Starting with an empty space at The Goods Shed, they spent months sorting the second-hand LEGO they’d collected – around 250 kilos and amounting to some 336,000 pieces. Then they sourced the worlds which would contain the LEGO, like a piano, a rusty car and an old movie projector, and used mixed media on the floors and walls around each one.

A futuristic lego city build, with components that glow neon in the dark. Small airborne craft fly around the cityscape.
‘Relics’ includes moving parts and interactive elements. Image courtesy of Scribblers Festival and FORM. Photo: Taryn Hays

The eagle-eyed will be rewarded by the discovery of subtle themes and motifs running through the works. Through the magic of storytelling and thousands of mini-stories imaginable in each world, the exhibition ignites a love of play while posing bigger questions about how we’re treating this world.

The pair’s mutual creativity and problem-solving abilities were put to the test in creating “Relics”, which includes moving parts and interactive elements. Towler says his engineering background helped him learn new skills as the pair problem-solved their way to having machines in the belly of the car and piano keys lighting up when pressed.

“We created these little worlds inside old derelict objects, imagining what would happen to them after humans left,” says Towler. “People are building their own LEGO all over the world. We wanted to build things in our own creative way and express ourselves and not necessarily follow the way things were designed to be done. That’s half the fun.”

“LEGO has a vast array of props and objects – ice picks to hammers and martini glasses – and you can tell any story you want,” says Harvey, a visual artist, muralist and tattooist who has studied architecture. With his years working in the visual arts, Harvey brings a good eye for aesthetics which he says was a perfect foil for Towler’s engineering skills.

Jackson Harvey and Alex Towler sit in the corner of a room, Harvey on the floor, which is covered in a Persian rug, and Towler in a vintage lime green leather armchair. There is a narrow bookshelf in one corner, a lampstand with no lamp and a black and white portrait hanging on the wall.
Jackson Harvey and Alex Towler, image courtesy of Scribblers Festival and FORM. Photo: Taryn Hays

Friends since high school with an innate appreciation of each other’s skills, the pair divided up the tasks of making and creating. It was their complementary skills that made Towler think the pair would make a good team to enter the LEGO Masters show. They both played with LEGO as kids but love it as a vehicle to express their creativity more than being mad fans. Winning the show and working on “Relics” has successfully added a business and creative partnership to their friendship.

“We co-operated very harmoniously on this project,” says Harvey. “We got to play with LEGO, solve problems and had fun doing so. We’d come up with a bunch of ideas, bounce them off each other and then go off and build them. It was a very collaborative and fun process.”

“Relics” – which is a free exhibition – is also available virtually on the website and includes a video series breaking down various topics around the making of the exhibition, creativity, storytelling and the merging of art and engineering, as well as a STEAM-based Relics Workbook.

Harvey says a prime intention was to emphasise the place where fun and play meet creative problem solving.

“It’s post-apocalyptic in that it’s post-human, so it’s a question in the back of your mind when you’re viewing the objects. Given all the issues we are facing today, it’s a question of what’s going to be left and what condition is it going to be left in.”

“Relics: Bricks of the New World” continues at The Goods Shed (4 Shenton Road, Claremont) until May 30.

Pictured top: a scene from ‘Relics’, by Jackson Harvey and Alex Towler, image courtesy of Scribblers Festival and FORM. Photo: Taryn Hays

Little worlds inside derelict objects. Image courtesy of Scribblers Festival and FORM. Photo: Taryn Hays

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

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