- Press -
 The Globe and Mail - 11 December 2004

Lego my Baby Jesus
By Michael Valpy

Baby Jesus looks like -- there's no other way of putting this -- two teeny propane-gas tanks stuck together, one of them with a happy face. Baby Jesus is also two-thirds the size of Virgin Mary.

Virgin Mary, before giving birth, has a rectangular bar affixed to her belly to represent pregnancy. Angel Gabriel's little face hasn't seen a razor for two days. When he tells Virgin Mary she is going to conceive Baby Jesus with the Holy Ghost, he brings a ghost with him.

The ghost appears to be smiling, although one can never be sure about Lego facial expressions.

They are the work of a wonderfully unhinged young Californian Web designer, Brendan Powell Smith, who tells the traditional Christmas story . . . in Lego models. Models that Smith, fascinated by the Bible, builds using the famous Danish construction toy, then photographs with a digital camera.

Last year, his Lego version of Genesis, The Brick Testament (Quirk Books), sold out. For this year's The Story of Christmas, his publisher doubled the print run.

Lego is hardly an alien medium for artists. Calgary's Damien Moppett attracted national attention a few years ago for his still-life photos of Lego and balloons. Polish artist Zbigniew Libera touched off a storm in 2002 with his Lego concentration camp exhibited at New York's Jewish Museum.

Nor is Christmas a stranger to irreverence. Madame Tussaud's wax museum in London has currently cast soccer stud David Beckham and Spice-Girl-wife Victoria as models for Jesus's parents.

Smith, who has an undergraduate degree in philosophy and religion, amassed with his girlfriend $5,000 (U.S.) worth of Lego from yard sales and eBay, and decided on the Bible as a worthy expression of the collection. He has done all of Genesis. He's done the Crucifixion, which gave him a problem: Lego models have arms that move parallel to their little bodies but not out sideways, as in hanging on a cross.

Lego characters also have interchangeable heads. Smith has 200 heads. Why an unshaven head for Angel Gabriel? Replies Smith, in an e-mail: "Would it really be heaven if you were required to shave every day?"

So here it is Christmas. Each generation interprets and reinterprets the Christian nativity. Each generation's artists approach the subject seeking a new expression of the transcendent with which to cement the story with contemporary relevance.

And the scene where Angel Gabriel visits Mary with the Holy Ghost is not to be missed. Smith says, "I am telling these sacred stories, but with a sense of humour, and sort of playing out the parts that make people scratch their heads."

Lego my Baby Jesus
This article appeared on page L5 of Toronto's the The Globe and Mail in the 11 December 2004 issue. An online version of the article can be found here.

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