Interview with the Lego Artist | David Turner
By Gemma McSherry • Photography: Phil Dorman
Your work often features political imagery. To what extent, if any, do you associate that with being Northern Irish?
My work, first and foremost, is about the materials that I employ in creating the works. Using children’s toys I am inviting the viewer into my childhood and allowing them to make a connection between the autobiographical element of my work, that being growing up in NI in the 70’s & 80’s and wider political statement, about a connection with Children of War world wide.
I aim to create imagery that deals with conflict, impasses and the experiences of children tied to these environments of conflict around the world. I was very aware when I was younger and living in NI that whilst, yes, there was terrible violence happening here, that we weren’t just a microcosm of violence. Violence like this wasn’t limited to NI, I remember seeing images in the news of bombs and carnage around the world, and I realised we could be very wrapped up in our own violence here that we aren’t acknowledging the conflict in the rest of the world. I wanted my work to relate that story, to relate that struggle to the struggle of others and to bring that sense of connectivity home to the viewer.
Your use of medium involves children’s toys, games, and items familiar around the home, was this an intentional technique to enable the work, which can often quite visually demanding for the viewer, to come to a place of comfort and play, before they explore the undertones of the work. Or were you simply drawn to toys as a medium?
I’ve found that in a number of instances people approach the materials without knowing what they are. We’re familiar with Hama beads and Lego, children use them to make Nintendo figures out of, and they’re a very inoffensive toy. So often people aren’t aware immediately what the materials are which allows the work to be free standing initially. I came up with the idea of using Hama beads as pixels, instead of the pixels being digital and on a screen, they’re isolated and static in a fixed form. Each bead represents a pixel and so it’s from this approach that the ideas of exploring explosions came. I found some software online, which featured images of buildings being enveloped by blasts. The images were beautiful and really drew me in, but I kept coming back to the experiences of my childhood, and subsequently, the use of childhood materials to create autobiographical works.
‘No Toy Gun’ rule; of course, the first thing we did as kids was go and build guns out of Lego. Lego is very much branded as a playful, innocent, nostalgic product, but it’s still very much conflict driven at the same time. I wanted to explore what it means to politicise the materials, the Lego. And one of the most fascinating things for me, is the different reactions to the works. A child’s reaction to a Lego gun vs an adults reaction is very different, I enjoy the idea of subverting the viewer with the materials.
For anyone who’s not necessarily very familiar or comfortable with the idea of contemporary art, or feels like they don’t know much about it, could you recommend any upcoming exhibition’s or gallery spaces in NI that will allow them to explore their curiosity?
I think the first thing to remember is that within contemporary art not everything needs to be a painting or a sculpture. Materials and ideas are just as important as to what art is and what it’s become. People shouldn’t be afraid of the idea that art isn’t just a painting on a canvas.
In terms of exploring art in Northern Ireland, QSS is a very good, cutting edge gallery, that’s always showing forward thinking and contemporary work. Here, we try to show artists from both Northern Ireland, Southern Ireland and beyond. You’re always going to find something that will make you think. Another fantastic spot is Platform Arts, set up 5/6 years ago it’s now one of the biggest artist led spaces in NI. Similarly Golden Thread gallery is great for a really varied range of works.
I believe ultimately it comes down to education in NI. It’s not just commercial galleries that are worth visiting; art can be entertaining, focused and thought-provoking.
Contemporary art in NI is steadily becoming recognised throughout the world. I would say never pass a gallery if you have the chance to go inside, you’ll always find something that will make you think. Our gallery space is right beside Belfast’s only Wetherspoon’s, there’s no excuse to miss out!
What do you think it is about Northern Ireland in particular that makes it such an incredible hub of arts and culture worldwide?
I think what’s been so incredible about Northern Ireland’s arts and culture scene in recent years is the investment from NI galleries and the Arts Council in coming up with ideas to get people into galleries. I think for Northern Ireland at least, there’s still a sense that Art is this thing that’s only accessed by a small group of people who follow the art scene. Really, the reputation of Northern Irish art far surpasses NI it-self, in fact the reputation is more withstanding outside of NI rather than inside it. There are incredible artists here doing so well, and with work being commissioned internationally, it’s outside of NI that our reputation really leads us. I’ve shown work in Beijing, London, Boston and other places globally, it’s definitely on a global scale that Northern Ireland is recognised.
For further viewing, visit www.belfastarts.co.uk