I recently heard from a friend based on the Gold Coast that a LEGO exhibit had taken up residence at the HOTA, or the Home of the Arts, on the Gold Coast. The former Gold Coast Arts Centre has undergone some significant changes in the last decade to better compete with Brisbane’s Queensland Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. One of the ways it has attempted to stand out is with interactive, family-friendly exhibitions where kids and adults alike can take part.
Bricktionary: The Interactive LEGO Brick Exhibition is a perfect example of this. It’s a large space filled with LEGO creations large and small, with numerous places for people to construct builds of their own. The day’s best constructions go on display beneath a large LEGO tree for everyone to see. At the end of the day, everything the punters have created is disassembled, disinfected, and returned to the creative spaces. Certain truly inspired designs have remained intact, and are displayed on shelving around the exhibit.
The exhibit is an alphabetical love letter to LEGO’s past and its present. What began as a creative and experimental exercise for children — take a bunch of blocks and see what you can come up with — has expanded into a hobby empire that relies on expensive licensed products as much as anything else. Bricktionary aims to sit somewhere between the familiar and the unique. A large portion of the exhibit has been built to encourage visitors to create their own builds, some to suit specific conditions. There’s a station where builders are asked to construct something that could survive an earthquake. Bays full of loose bricks and pieces sit before a panel. Finished builds go on the panel, which rattle and hum to simulate the aforementioned earthquake. It’s a fast way to teach kids about structural integrity. Each area of the exhibit corresponds to a letter of the alphabet, breaking down the creative process by encouraging visitors to think about things they could build related to each letter.
Among the many builds in the Bricktionary collection that depict licensed properties, HOTA smartly avoids using any copyrighted names. It’s up to you to recognise what you’re looking at. I saw a full-size Mechwarrior and a Mario in his red and blue go-kart. The was an Evangelion Unit 02 in the mix. I even saw a LEGO version of Mr Bean’s couch car. There are pop culture touchstones hidden among the displays everywhere you look. These medium-size builds were, to me, the most impressive of the bunch. Unlike larger scale builds (of which there are many in the collection), medium-size builds seem to present a greater challenge to master builders. They have to walk a line between detail and scale and that isn’t there when working on a megabuild.
Of the mega builds on display, I saw the previously mentioned Mechwarrior robot and 2.5m tall recreation of the Apollo 11 rocket. They even had a replica of the twisty Shanghai Tower building. Builds like these are expressions of creativity that demand brick resources beyond what a normal person would have access to. They require tens of thousands of bricks to complete and an engineer’s understanding of weight distribution and structure. What they inevitably trade in overall detail they make up for with sheer size.
All of this is presided over by two major recordings by The Brickman, Ryan McNaught. We recently saw an example of McNaught’s work at the Australian Grand Prix earlier this year. Here, McNaught and his team go above and beyond. McNaught specialises in mega builds like these. He is a fixture in the Australian LEGO scene and is frequently hired to build large projects for media activations and special events.
From the large screens above the exhibit, a prerecorded video from the Brickman instructs burgeoning builders on the fundamentals of any good LEGO build. He offers ideas for how to get started, identifying pieces that will work well together, and things the pros do to find inspiration. He’s a great mentor and his enthusiasm, even via video, is infectious.
The Bricktionary exhibit is based on McNaught’s latest book of the same name. It’s all about inspiring young builders and giving them the tools to start working on their own original builds and concepts. In an era where much of the LEGO hobby is in prescribed builds with step-by-step manuals, the ability to shove your hands into a bucket of bricks and go your own way feels increasingly rare. In this way, McNaught’s book, and the exhibit it inspired, keep the old traditions alive.
The brick and mortar
So how much will it cost you to explore this LEGO wonderland? Single rider adult tickets are $19.50, with concession holders at $17.50. Kids aged 3-15 years get in for $12.50. HOTA members are a small discount down to $16. Or, if you’re taking the family, you’re looking at $59 for two adults and two children.
Obviously, there’s a gift shop waiting for you on the way out, stocked with LEGO kits from across the department store kids ranges to the higher end adult hobbyist range. One day, LEGO Typewriter, I’ll bring you home, but not yet. Not yet. I want to see if I can figure out how to build you myself first.
Bricktionary: The Interactive LEGO Exhibition is on now at the Gold Coast Home of the Arts.