The geekiest art opening of the year is coming to the Bryan Ohno Gallery in Seattle’s International District Thursday night. “In Lego, We Connect” will feature the work of three photographers whose adventurous subjects are shiny, plastic and never more than a couple inches tall.
“I do not look at the Lego as a toy,” said photographer Vesa Lehtimaki, better known as @Avanaut. “I look at them as serious subjects of photography.”
Lego sales jumped 15 percent in 2014, with revenue more than quadrupling in the previous 10 years, but I can’t believe that’s just because of kids. There’s a grown-up love of Lego, and it carries a little envy. Here’s a toy that’s sturdy yet nimble, that can be put together as easily as it’s pulled apart. We want to work playfully. Play productively.
Legos make that look easy.
Now these photographers are bringing them to life.
Shelly Corbett, Boris Vanrillaer and Lehtimaki came together in person for the first time this week in Seattle. but @xxSJC, @_me2_ and @Avanaut are close colleagues online. Together they form a collective they call #stuckinplastic, complete with a blog, an Instagram hashtag and chronicles of what sound like the perfect trips with their tiny subjects, like Varillaer’s recent pilgrimage to the original Lego factory in Billund, Denmark.
Lehtimaki flew from Finland this week to be part of the exhibition. Boris Vanrillaer (@_me2_) came from Sweden. And Seattle’s Shelly Corbett (@xxSJC) — who used Legos to take the best engagement photos I’ve ever seen, for my friends’ 2013 wedding — was already here, getting ready.
“It really just felt like old friends connecting again after a long summer holiday,” Vanrillaer said.
Corbett said Ohno took a chance on them and their unusual subjects with this exhibit. But the collaboration strikes me as natural. Ohno, a gallerist since the 1980s, wants to feature work that blurs the lines between art and science, challenge tradition and “embrace evolving cultural intersections.” Besides, Legos are hot. I’d say he knows what he’s doing.
And before you think that documenting the imaginary lives of Legos was inspired by that Lego Movie last year (which was so good), it’s the other way around. When the filmmakers wanted to understand how to add atmosphere to small spaces, they asked Lehtimaki, whose rich, moody Lego photos on Flickr had caught their attention.
Each artist imagines Lego life differently.
Lehtimaki gets meticulous with light, shadow and scene.
“I like challenge the Lego brick poses, the shiny surface of the featureless plastic is just begging to be lit differently,” he said.
Vanrillaer captures the moment adventure begins. You read something like gusto in the static faces of his characters.
That’s so viewers can “feel inspired and ready to go on their own adventures, with or without plastic,” he said.
Corbett’s themes are friendship and exploration. Her universe is big on whimsy, and leaves you with a sense that everything’s going to be OK in the end.
“Right now I am enjoying photographing the classic Lego spacemen because they tend to explore the world with an open heart and open mind; something I strive to do,” she said.
Looking at these artists’ work, it strikes me how effectively toy photography makes you believe the impossible, just for a second. Photos make us still, even though we move.
Maybe the toys move, too.
“In Lego, We Connect” opens March 5 and runs through April 11, 2015 at the Bryan Ohno Gallery. The artists will be at an opening reception there from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. March 5, and will follow that with an artists’ talk and photo walk Saturday, March 7, at the gallery and Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park.