Inspiration: Ai Weiwei and Lego

I went to see Archie Roach at the Melbourne Recital Centre on Saturday night. The gig was fantastic. Archie played songs from his forthcoming album, Let LOVE Rule, some of which were accompanied by the Dhungala Childrens Choir and members of the Short Black Opera.

The backdrop to the stage was a huge projection of this pixelated image of Archie (which also graces the cover of his new album).


I hate to admit it, but I spent a large portion of the gig staring up at this image and figuring out how big a finished quilt would be if each pixel were a 1″ square (answer: pretty big).

Afterwards, when trying to track down the image online, I discovered that the portrait was part of the Letgo Room, created by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei as part of the Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in late 2015 / early 2016. Archie Roach was one of 20 Australians depicted, whom Ai chose because of their activism or advocacy for human rights and free speech.

Ai’s initial aim was to create the work using Lego®, but the Danish manufacturer refused to fulfil a bulk order of the plastic building bricks if their use was for political purposes (it’s since reversed that policy). Australians donated their spare Lego in droves, but it’s not clear if Ai used these bricks or imitation bricks to complete his work.

I’ve always been a fan of pixelated imagery – all the way back to my high-school art class, when I translated a photo from a magazine ad into a hand-shaded, ~A0-sized pixelated image (inspired by this 1985 movie poster… yep, I was in high school in the 80s). It’s probably not so surprising that I’ve found another art form (or craft form) that relies on the same straight lines and gridwork.