Lego my Baby Jesus
By Michael Valpy
Baby Jesus looks like -- there's no other way of putting this
-- two teeny propane-gas tanks stuck together, one of them with
a happy face. Baby Jesus is also two-thirds the size of Virgin
Virgin Mary, before giving birth, has a rectangular bar affixed
to her belly to represent pregnancy. Angel Gabriel's little face
hasn't seen a razor for two days. When he tells Virgin Mary she
is going to conceive Baby Jesus with the Holy Ghost, he brings
a ghost with him.
The ghost appears to be smiling, although one can never be sure
about Lego facial expressions.
They are the work of a wonderfully unhinged young Californian
Web designer, Brendan Powell Smith, who tells the traditional
Christmas story . . . in Lego models. Models that Smith, fascinated
by the Bible, builds using the famous Danish construction toy,
then photographs with a digital camera.
Last year, his Lego version of Genesis, The Brick Testament
(Quirk Books), sold out. For this year's The Story of Christmas,
his publisher doubled the print run.
Lego is hardly an alien medium for artists. Calgary's Damien
Moppett attracted national attention a few years ago for his still-life
photos of Lego and balloons. Polish artist Zbigniew Libera touched
off a storm in 2002 with his Lego concentration camp exhibited
at New York's Jewish Museum.
Nor is Christmas a stranger to irreverence. Madame Tussaud's
wax museum in London has currently cast soccer stud David Beckham
and Spice-Girl-wife Victoria as models for Jesus's parents.
Smith, who has an undergraduate degree in philosophy and religion,
amassed with his girlfriend $5,000 (U.S.) worth of Lego from yard
sales and eBay, and decided on the Bible as a worthy expression
of the collection. He has done all of Genesis. He's done the Crucifixion,
which gave him a problem: Lego models have arms that move parallel
to their little bodies but not out sideways, as in hanging on
Lego characters also have interchangeable heads. Smith has 200
heads. Why an unshaven head for Angel Gabriel? Replies Smith,
in an e-mail: "Would it really be heaven if you were required
to shave every day?"
So here it is Christmas. Each generation interprets and reinterprets
the Christian nativity. Each generation's artists approach the
subject seeking a new expression of the transcendent with which
to cement the story with contemporary relevance.
And the scene where Angel Gabriel visits Mary with the Holy Ghost
is not to be missed. Smith says, "I am telling these sacred
stories, but with a sense of humour, and sort of playing out the
parts that make people scratch their heads."