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article imageChina's Ai Weiwei off to play as fans answer call for Lego

By AFP     Oct 26, 2015 in Entertainment

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said Monday his plan to create a Lego artwork can go ahead as donations of the toy poured in from fans after the Danish company refused his bulk order on political grounds.

The maker of the children's toy sparked a social media uproar when Ai said it had refused to supply him directly as it "cannot approve the use of Legos for political works".

Ai is China's most prominent contemporary artist. He helped design the Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics and his work has been exhibited worldwide, but he has also run afoul of Communist authorities.

He used the bricks to create portraits of political activists from around the world for an exhibition at Alcatraz prison in the United States last year, and intended to create a Lego artwork for a show in Australia.

Expressing his surprise at Lego's reaction, Ai said at a press conference in Berlin: "I was flabbergasted as it was a perfectly respectable order."

After his appeal for bricks online, numerous fans have offered to give him their Lego blocks.

"The Internet is a place that is sort of like a modern-day church," Ai said.

Danish company Lego says it would not sell directly to users with 'political' intentions
Danish company Lego says it would not sell directly to users with 'political' intentions
Karl-Josef Hildenbrand, DPA/AFP/File

"You go to church and complain to the priest about your suffering and everyone in the community can share in it and perhaps find a solution," said the artist at the press conference arranged on his guest professorship at the Berlin's University of the Arts.

To a tweet from a fan who wrote: "I am taking a Lego brick to @aiww's London exhibition and leaving it there", Ai replied on Twitter: "Every one (is) precious".

- 'Defend free speech' -

A post on his Instagram account also said Monday: "Ai Weiwei has now decided to make a new work to defend freedom of speech and 'political art'.

"Ai Weiwei Studio will announce the project description and Lego collection points in different cities."

One collection point, a car parked outside his studio in Beijing, was shown with some bricks on the sunroof.

'Trace ' an installation by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei  part of '@Large: Ai WeiWei on ...
'Trace,' an installation by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, part of '@Large: Ai WeiWei on Alcatraz,' displayed in San Francisco, California, in September 2014
Noah Berger, AFP/File

His Instagram account also shows a picture of Lego bricks in a toilet bowl with the caption "Everything is awesome" -- the theme song of the blockbuster Lego movie.

One supporter posting on Twitter told the manufacturer: "Your execs need to go watch the @TheLEGOMovie and think about what they've done."

Another said: "I'm picturing a Lego sculpture of a giant Lego character shooting itself in the foot."

Ai also pointed out that Britain's Merlin Entertainments, which owns and operates Legoland theme parks, announced plans for a facility in Shanghai last week during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Britain.

Lego's parent company Kirkbi owns a 30 percent stake in Merlin.

Visitors listen to audio recordings in "Stay Tuned"  an installation by Chinese artist Ai ...
Visitors listen to audio recordings in "Stay Tuned", an installation by Chinese artist Ai WeiWei on September 27, 2014 in San Francisco
Noah Berger, AFP/File

Lego spokesman Roar Rude Trangbaek told AFP that the company refrains "on a global level from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of Lego bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda. This principle is not new."

That included making bulk sales if it is aware the product's use will have political connotations.

But he added: "We respect any individual's right to free creative expression, and we do not censor, prohibit or ban creative use of Lego bricks."

- 'Good business sense' -

Ai has been targeted by authorities for his advocacy of democracy and human rights as well as other criticisms of the government, including in the aftermath of the deadly Sichuan earthquake in 2008.

He was detained for 81 days in 2011 and subsequently placed under house arrest, with his passport taken away. The document was only returned in July this year, enabling him to travel to Europe.

An op-ed in the Chinese edition of the Global Times newspaper, affiliated with the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, praised Lego for "refusing to be implicated in a political statement" and being motivated by "good business sense".

Political Chinese artist Ai Weiwei famously dropped and smashed a Han Dynasty urn in the name of art
Political Chinese artist Ai Weiwei famously dropped and smashed a Han Dynasty urn in the name of art
Leon Neal, AFP/File

It is not the first time Lego has rejected a proposal on the grounds of political context, reports say.

A Lego set of the four female members of the US Supreme Court was rejected by the Lego Ideas project, which allows members of the public to suggest new products, according to US radio network NPR.

The idea appears to contradict the company's Acceptable Project Content, which says projects related to "politics and political symbols, campaigns, or movements" will not be accepted because they "do not fit our brand values".

For $30 (27 euros) the company offers a model of the Lincoln Memorial, and a White House set costs $50.

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