07 October 2013

From Swindon to L.A.

Posted by Admin
In today's post we're going travelling to places real and virtual, concrete and plastic, past and future, around the globe and beyond. I hope I haven't overmanaged your expectations with that pretentious opening line?... the first destination is Swindon. That's the concrete bit.

I'm now home after an exhausting, fabulous weekend at The Great Western LEGO® Show, the UK's largest display, run by the Brickish Association who are the UK's largest LUG. I'm very rude to label the English town of Swindon as concrete, as the show itself is held in a beautifully restored nineteenth-century railway works building. I've not displayed there before and it was a wonderful experience to take part. Six other members and I covered 30 feet of the tables with models that we had built for The LEGO Play Book (the creation of which I discussed in an earlier post). It was such a delight to see little faces (and big ones) lighting up at the sight of my creations, especially given that they'd already probably spent an hour or more having their faces regularly lit up by LEGO before getting to our display, which sat towards the exit.

But before I carry on, a quick side note to Los Angeles readers! I will be bringing one of said LEGO Play Book models to your fair town this Sunday (October 13, 2013). The Skirball Center are having a LEGO Day - casefuls of bricks will be available for building and you can peruse the book if you haven't bought it already, which of course you have, haven't you. It would be great to meet any New Elementary Readers that can make it! Details are on the Skirball Center Lego Day page.

Back to the Swindon show. There's no way I can do justice to even a handful of the displays so just I'll describe two that so ably exemplify the versatility of LEGO and diversity of human imagination.

The Land of Tigelfáh was a collaborative build by eight Brickish members of a medieval castle and town. The initial point of note was that it was bleedin' enormous, with more than half a million elements covering close to 14 square metres, and it's worth mentioning nearly half of that was built by one person, James Pegrum (peggyjdb). Here is the best picture I've found yet to convey the scale, taken by collaborator Jimmy Clynche (Invicta Bricks). The other contributors were Cuahchic, Derfel Cadarn, Kǻrrde, Malravion, SlyOwl and workshysteve.

Mammoth size always gives any display an initial wow factor, but the authenticity and rich detail is what kept the public examining this work for long periods. For example, this tiny section of Jimmy's town square. Don't you just want to walk down this street yourself?

Is Tigelfáh a real place? No, but the historical and architectural accuracy of the display made everyone wonder. Tigelfáh is an Old English word and means 'many-coloured with tiles or bricks', and that little fact alone conveys the thought, intelligence and charm that went into the display. James took great pleasure in designing the various extensions made to the castle over the centuries using the appropriate contemporaneous castle building styles - and even utilised LEGO's colour history to assist the effect. The earliest part of the castle, the eleventh-century keep, was built using "Old Gray" elements (Light Gray [BL]/Grey [TLG]) to give a different shade to later additions.

An entire history was fabricated around the model, scenes from which were acted out within the display over the weekend. Visitors could even read a brochure which James designed, purporting to be a modern-day tour guide of the castle. This clever addition went some way to address the level of detail that was above and beyond what attendees could fully appreciate - for example, the various interiors including working toilets! - but these finer details are something that you can enjoy by strolling through his Flickr set of Tigelfáh Castle. Sadly this two-year project will never wholly be seen 'in the brick' again; storage and potential further transport costs prevent that! But I hear they are already planning their next display...

SCREAM @ STEAM by contrast is a series of twelve small dioramas containing less than 4,000 elements in total and a restricted colour palette. Before I sway impressions with any more words, here are pictures of the ten 'rooms' from the series, taken by the builder Drew Maughan a.k.a. SilentMode. Unfortunately lighting in the venue was hopelessly low but I imagine Drew will be taking controlled shots soon.

As some of you will have spotted, the series is in part a homage to the Mark Romanek 1995 black and white video for Michael and Janet Jackson's song "SCREAM". But it's much more than a recreation. As Drew's notes explain, "similarly to the music video: the signature figure (sigfig) and his partner Val have left Earth for good, having become disillusioned with society and its ever-decreasing standards. Inside their own spacecraft they were free to live and express themselves however they wanted to."

I struggled all weekend to find words to accurately describe this display and I fear photographs will fail to ever truly convey it either. So a strange choice for me to choose it for a blog post, but there was no choice really as I found this display so... strange. Haunting. Intense. Clever. Cruel. Emotional. Crisp. Obscure. None of these adjectives quite nail it, it's definitely a case of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. When I explained my difficulty to a friend he said "well, it's Art." Public reactions certainly seemed to back this up.

Drew hopes to display it again, which I really hope he does as the more who can see it 'in the brick' the better. It inspired me in a way quite unlike anything I've seen for a while and I love that a concept like this can sit equally alongside castles, cities, cars and everything else wonderful that people create from the little plastic lumps. But equally, I'd love to see it sit in a gallery!


  1. I have to say Caper...this was the lamest post you've done yet. You fawning over the displays and "I went to this thing and it was so awesome that I can't pick the right fancy words to describe it," with a little self promotion thrown in there.You post 10 pictures of this ugly ass grey crap, yet couldn't show any off the other displays beyond the two? Not only were my expectations mismanaged, but so was this post.

    I'm sorry to be overly critical but I feel that criticism is necessary sometimes. Next time you go to an event, talk about your experiences, link to a curated selection of photos that best represents the entire experience, link to a pool or pools of the rest of the images and do your best to describe the event to us readers who couldn't attend. That's my (hopefully) constructive criticism of this somewhat meandering post. Oh and remember, "a picture is worth a thousand words" photos do plenty of justice.

  2. Thanks for letting us know how you would do it but that’s pretty much the standard approach to event reportage. I like risking different approaches with my blog, which is why I chose to give space to just two displays that pushed the medium into unusual territories but contrasted one other. But hey, you can’t please all the people all of the time.

    1. Its not even that you covered those two displays, its more that you didn't cover anything else. We readers turn to fellow AFOL's who blog to hear about the events we can't attend. I'm wanting to hear more about brick con and so far there hasn't been a whole lot. I was hoping to hear something about this event, so far you're the only one I've seen cover it. It doesn't necessarily mean you're the only one covering it, but you're like the best blog I read, and your post on it was really disappointing and uninformative.

      I personally wouldn't have minded if this post was longer to accommodate your focus on the two displays, but also to do some event coverage. I can't speak for anyone else, but I personally don't mind your longer posts. Gives me something to read. :D

  3. Personally I read this blog for elements, rather than event reviews, so having an event review is a bonus in my opinion. Don't listen to the moaners!

    It was good to meet you at STEAM - With it being my first time, I can't wait for next year. I might even have something more substantial to display...!

    1. It was a fun meal and great to put your face to the username! Don't worry, I've spent long enough on a certain forum to learn what type of person to listen to :OD