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Lego becomes fine art, and you can join in

In Manhattan sometime soon? Stop by renowned artist Olafur Eliasson's "The collectivity project" and do your part for art -- by helping create a Lego utopia.

"The collectivity project" combines the visions of local architectural firms with input from the public to create a Lego cityscape. Visitors can create their own structures or rebuild existing ones.
"The collectivity project" combines the visions of local architectural firms with input from the public to create a Lego cityscape. Visitors can create their own structures or rebuild existing ones. Paula Vasan/CNET

NEW YORK -- In a lower Manhattan park called the High Line -- a disused elevated railway turned plant filled promenade -- tiny worlds made from white Legos are constantly morphing.

That's because "The collectivity project," an installation here by internationally known artist Olafur Eliasson, encourages visitors to stop, play and relive their childhood memories.

"I forgot to eat lunch today, drinking a small amount of water," said 59-year-old New Yorker and professional sculptor Freddy Borges, who just couldn't walk away from the project. He spent eight hours working on a Lego building.

Legos, the iconic snap-together building blocks, have enjoyed a revival in recent years, as many other toys and games have moved into the digital realm. Eliasson's installation is an example of that, underscoring how people -- even in an increasingly digital culture -- want to physically interact.

"I was just thinking: 'I've got to make this as tall as possible,'" Borges said.

The installation is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time, till September 30. And it's free. Eliasson -- whose work has appeared at New York's Museum of Modern Art, London's Tate Modern and other big-name temples of culture -- collaborated with a number of architectural firms in the area. Each firm built one structure out of Legos for the opening of the project. The only instruction Eliasson gave them was to create a vision of their "ideal city." Once the project opened to the public, on May 29, all the firms' Lego models were quickly built and rebuilt by visitors.

The project's goal? For people of all walks of life and all ages to create a collective cityscape. And what better way to do that than with Legos?

The High Line staff doesn't touch the structures (with the exception of adding more Legos to the tables when they're running low). The public is invited in each day, and what they decide to create is up to them.

This isn't the first time Eliasson has created collective art with Legos. Before he had the idea to showcase this project on the High Line, the artist presented it in public squares in Tirana, Albania (2005), Oslo (2006) and Copenhagen (2008).

Why did he choose Legos? And specifically white ones? For one thing, the plastic blocks originated in Denmark, where Eliasson was born. Beyond that, the word "lego" comes from the Danish phrase "leg godt," which means "play well." And the choice of white Legos had to do with creating a neutral, collective project. In other words, everyone can use the same tools -- white Legos -- and share a vision to create something together...or build something completely on their own from scratch.

CNET's Paula Vasan visited the installation to check out some of the Lego structures built so far. Take a look at her gallery: