Monday 20 July 2015

Throwing plastic bricks at torturers, because words bounce off

Another brick in the wall

An anonymous artist whose provocative Lego recreations is attracting interest from the art and cinema world gave me their first interview

Legofesto is a British artist who describes herself as “a politicsjunkie and news-hound, with a obsession for lego” and “very, very pissed off about how this War on Terror is being prosecuted.” In response to scenes of war and torture, she works to recreate some of the most notorious images, using Lego, based on photographs and first-hand accounts to make the scenes as accurate as possible. The results are disturbing, showing horrific scenes in this most innocent of children’s toys. The simplicity of the artwork is made more powerful by stripping the original image down to its shocking essentials. Usually the tableau is added to her blog with a cut-and-paste of a news story about the incident, and only rarely does the artist make a direct commentary.

Film director, Brian de Palma is also an admirer and wanted to use her recreation of the rape in Mahmudiya in his film Redacted, she said. Speaking about the film, he said “It started with small things, like the Legofesto site for example. Here’s a site that actually reconstructs the incident with Legos, shows a Lego figure being raped, blood on the floor, etc. and is critical of the event, but the lawyers come and say, we can’t use it because it has a brand name - Lego. Not that they are to blame. If you put it in its real context - an Internet blog using Lego figures to illustrate an event, I could not see the problem, but legal vetting is set to safeguard and in that respect

Who wants the possibility of going to war with Lego?”

Legofesto protects her identity and usually only communicates with the media via email but agreed to give New Europe her first real interview.

What prompted you to make these lego re-creations?

Watching the Iraq war unfolding, Guantanamo filling up and photos and testimony of abuses filtering out, I noticed there was little response from the art world to the horrors that we were seeing. I was playing with my boy one day and he was doing what boys do, playing with knives and soldiers and throwing mini-figures into a toy prison and it made me think about how we’re de-humanising people, we’re treating them as if they had no more moral value than a toy figurine, so I thought it would be interesting to see what happened when I used the language and toys of play to depict the real world at it’s harshest and most unjust.

You say that you’re angry about the Iraq war and counter terror policy. What exactly are you angry about?

The whole damn thing. Not that I disagree that 9/11 needed a response, and a strong one, but it needed to be an effective response and diplomacy wasn’t given a chance, especially with the farce at the UN over the “second resolution” that never happened and the UK’s infamous and discredited “dodgy dossier,” leading to the suspicious suicide of Dr David Kelly, who was a dissenting voice in the run-up to the publication of the dossier. Iraq was the wrong, war at the wrong time, for the wrong reason. I think that for dogmatic reasons the US wanted a war at any cost and Tony Blair was deluded enough to go along with it. I tried blogging, going on marches and writing letters to MP’s but they had no effect. It was the waste of stamps.

Did you get any feedback from British MP’s?

I got some positive replies from a couple of anti-war Labour backbenchers and one managed to ask Tony Blair a question that put him on the spot and embarrassed him, but ultimately it had no effect. I also talked to the Liberal Whips Office who were the only party in parliament trying to stop the war, but the UK parliamentary system marginalises them, so as far as I and the many others who protested against the war felt, the political establishment failed us completely and that is the underlying reason that this expensive and bloody farce went ahead.

What are you trying to achieve?

I want to keep the debate going. To keep it in people’s minds, to remind us of our atrocities because the media has moved on and they don’t want to dwell on the tactics. Too many euphemisms were used. Enhanced interrogation, anyone? We understand what torture and rape mean, yet want to look away and I wanted to keep people’s attention focused on it.

But hasn’t the media kept with the story? Obama has just released the torture memos.

That’s a change in administration. It’s also means that media attention is coming back to torture and we need to take a long hard look at the Bush administration and the moral collapse that is their legacy. We live in a world where the right-wing is saying that waterboarding isn’t torture. Could you imagine their reaction if Iran openly did that to a US soldier? Then it is torture. It takes some gall to claim that you’re the world’s leading force for good whilst creating Abu Graib and a whole network of secret prisons in Europe. We should not lower our own morals and values to those of terrorists and criminals. We need to be better than that.

What has been the reaction to Legofesto?

I’ve been shocked by the response, it’s been huge. It’s been overwhelmingly good and I’ve been exhibiting in a few places in the UK, once alongside work from Guantantamo Bay and Baghram inmates, which was an honour because I was pleased that people who had actually been through the experiences I had recreated understood my motivations. It was touching and profoundly humbling when recently freed prisoner Moazzam Begg told me that he had used Legofesto to explain to his children what he had been through. I have also spoken to ex-guards from Guantanamo Bay.

How have Lego responded to you?

Not heard anything from them. I make it clear that Lego do not endorse what I do and that my site is not for children.

What next?

I’m waiting for the new torture memos to come out and will make more pieces.

What do you think you’ve achieved?

I’ve helped to continue the debate. People are using Legofesto to talk about torture and state violence. As an artist I need to use art to raise and provoke debate about the really serious issues affecting us, because what we do in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere does affect us all; our actions have consequenses for others and ourselves.

If we silently acquiesce to torture, what have we as people, become?

The artistic response from the art establishment has been muted as if many are too frightened to engage with these issues or just don’t have anything to say on matters of substance. We must not forget there are hundreds of iraqi artists struggling to practice under a new, supposedly freer regime, yet they are being killed for making art, having to go into exile. We don’t often get to see their art.

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