By Angelo Piro
Ai Weiwei, the controversial Chinese artist famous for his work protesting the Chinese government, is no stranger to battling powerful forces. But while he may be used to butting heads with his countries strong central government, he may have finally met his match: Lego.
Weiwei, who has been strongly critical of censorship, planned on constructing a new project at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. However, after filing a bulk order of the famous building bricks from the Danish toy company, he was informed that his order could not be fulfilled.
Posting on his Instagram account, Weiwei said, “In September, Lego refused Ai Weiwei studio’s request for a bulk order of Legos to create artwork to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria as ‘they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works.’”
In later posts, Weiwei called Lego’s refusal of the order an act of censorship and discrimination. According to reports from ArtNet News, Weiwei suggests that the refusal stems from Lego’s attempts to save its relationship with China. Weiwei pointed to the recent announcement by a British firm of the opening of a Legoland in Shanghai.
Lego firmly denies Weiwei’s claim. In a statement issued to the Guardian, a Lego spokesperson made it clear that Lego has never and does not attempt to block the use of its products in projects it hasn’t endorsed. However, it will continue to enforce a policy of not aiding political messages through bulk orders.
The spokesperson also pointed out that the proposed Legoland in Shanghai is not operated by Lego, but by a British company, Merlin Entertainments. However, Lego does have some important commercial operations emerging in China, reports the Guardian, the biggest being a new factory that is projected to employ two thousand Chinese workers and open in 2017.
While Lego may claim that it is simply trying to maintain an apolitical stance, it is no stranger to the use of its products in controversial political pieces. In an installation featuring Legos in 1996, Polish artist Zbigniew Libera created a full concentration camp out of the plastic bricks. Weiwei himself has used Legos in previous installations, most notably in a project on Alcatraz Island that featured over a million Lego bricks depicting portraits of political prisoners and dissidents, like Nelson Mandela and Chelsea Manning.
Despite this setback, Weiwei still wants to move forward with his project. Now, instead of getting his materials directly from Lego, he is asking for donations from fans, putting his request out to the Internet through his Twitter page. According to the Atlantic, Weiwei and his supporters, along with donations received through mail, are also deploying cars in cities like Berlin and Melbourne for fans to deposit their spare Legos.