25 May 2024

Aussie Lego Masters bring their RELICS exhibition to Auckland

From Saturday Morning, 10:40 am on 25 May 2024

In 2020, childhood friends Alex Towler and Jackson Harvey won the Australian reality show Lego Masters.

Four years on, their elaborate retrofuturistic Lego exhibition RELICS: A New World Rises is coming to Aotearoa.

The idea for RELICS came to Harvey and Towler after they were given free rein to build a Lego exhibit in a Perth art gallery, Harvey says.

"We had this idea that there could be little Lego people living inside the everyday household objects that we use and we could fill the space with them and create this environment that you could walk through. From there, the idea of setting it in the post-human future began."

RELICS is set in an imagined Earth of 2530 when the human race has departed due to climate destruction and thousands of Lego minifigures live among discarded vintage treasures.

The exhibition took about a year to plan and design and another year and a half to construct.

Because spontaneity is part of the fun of Lego, there's always room for some creativity during the construction period, Harvey says.

"Lego really lends itself to that freeform style of building and it doesn't - in the way we work - help us greatly if we have really rigid design plans.

"We look for stylistic inspiration and storytelling elements, and then we just go for it. That's really the fun of putting the exhibition together."

All the Lego used in RELICS is secondhand, including approximately 2000 mini-figures, Harvey says.

"We had a ton of it mixed together that we had to sort through meticulously, which took an immense amount of time. And that formed the basis of our exhibition.

"It was basically impossible to count pieces as you build. But what we like to do is count mini-figures because they are really the heart of the exhibition, they're the storytellers."

It's fascinating to explore the "expressions" you can make with a mini-figure whose limbs don't bend, Towler says.

"They've got no elbows or knees and their hands are little Cs but you can get these really subtle expressions out of them - it's kind of a fun challenge." 

While the mini-figures' world in RELICS is "bright and colourful and fun and playful", the post-human environment they inhabit is actually quite grim and desolate, Harvey says.

He and Towler hope the exhibition will inspire younger audiences to engage with topics like climate change, which is often presented as "sombre and melancholy".

The Lego mini-figures in RELICS exist in a world of vintage human-made objects sourced from secondhand shops, salvage yards and Facebook Marketplace.

These include an old VW Beetle and a 1940s Wurlitzer jukebox - which many kids can't identify, Towler says.

"It creates this really lovely moment where you see parents teaching their kids about what a jukebox was and explaining what its role was. And then the reaction from the kids, being astounded.

"They can't understand why you would stand around a big box in the corner and dance when you've got all this stuff on your phone in your hands. That is quite a unique experience that we've observed and it's really lovely. It's probably one of my favourite things about seeing people go through the exhibition."

The real appeal of Lego is the way it spans and can connect different generations, he says.

"A piece of Lego from the '60s will fit with a piece of Lego from today ... It's a toy that has such a strong connection to us as kids. People will hang on to it as they grow, to the point where they've held on to it long enough to be able to pass it on to their kids and even the next generation."

"The Dark Ages" is how the Lego community refers to the lost block-less years between childhood and adulthood, Towler says.

When he first suggested to Harvey that they sign up for the Lego Masters show, his old friend's reaction soon turned it from "sort of a joke" into a thrilling prospect.

"I saw him light up and look really excited. From that moment, we were just hooked [on Lego] again. We really have a lot of fun seeing how expressive you can be with it as a creative medium and not just a toy."

Harvey hopes RELICS will appeal not just to Lego fans and children, but also highlight the storytelling powers of the iconic toy blocks and figures.

"You're used to seeing Lego in retail sets on the shelves at Kmart and being presented in a certain way. But what we're really aiming to achieve with this exhibition is to show Lego in a new light and present it in a way you haven't seen before."

RELICS: A New World Rises is at the Auckland Museum from 29 May to 13 October.