Life in LEGO

KALAHEO — Sean Kenney comes from the intersection of creativity and mathematics and for him that place is built out of LEGO bricks.

The New York City artist has been making sculptures out of the building blocks for more than a decade and his “Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks” exhibit opens Friday at McBryde Gardens.

Together, the 14 garden-themed sculptures in the exhibit are comprised of more than a quarter of a million LEGO bricks and each represents the interconnectedness of nature.

“I’ve always been a LEGO fan and with this, you’re creating, but it’s bound by rules, math, or a system,” Kenney said. “That jives well with whatever it is that I have about me and that’s why I enjoy it so much.”

The first evidence of Kenney’s building block obsession was captured when he was two years old with a photograph, but Kenney said he’s not sure if that’s his first time building with LEGO bricks, or if it was the first time someone took a photo.

“It’s been that thing that’s always part of my life,” he said.

That baby bricklayer grew from tinkering with a few of those oversized DUPLO blocks to creating sculptures like The Gardener, which greets visitors as they enter the Food For Thought Garden at McBryde Gardens.

The Gardener is made of more than 34,000 individual LEGO bricks and took about 255 hours to create. Each LEGO brick is about eight millimeters in size.

“You have to go big outdoors. You have to use a lot of pieces because if you don’t, you’ll just walk right by the sculpture,” Kenney said. “This valley is vast and you talk about things in yards or acres here, not millimeters, but that belies the size of a LEGO piece.”

One of the sculptures that is easy to miss, for example, is a family of ducks, comprised of a few thousand pieces, placed near one of the ponds in the Food for Thought Garden. Kenney said the sculpture is also a great example of the way he attempts to infuse meaning into his work.

“I want to convey more than just a duck,” Kenney said. “That family of ducks is a dad and its babies. I’m a dad and I have babies. I really try to put in that magic aspect, that spark.”

Kenney’s LEGO magic is on full display at the bottom of the Biodiversity Trail at McBryde Gardens, where his Hummingbird with Trumpet Flower grows out of the enter of the roundabout.

“That humming bird feeding out of a trumpet flower is about the mutualistic relationship and the connection,” Kenney said. “So you have that aspect of it, but you also have to think about the actual technique, the craft of it.”

Actually building these sculptures takes math, a plan and a crew of about 19 people working together to bring the preliminary drawing to life. It requires steel rods and plates for support and, of course, millions of LEGO pieces.

“I was the first person to be able to directly order my pieces from LEGO and now there’s about a dozen or so others that do it,” Kenney said. “The last order I placed was for 14 pallets of LEGO bricks. It was a million or so pieces.”

While he loves working with the structure of building blocks, what Kenney really does is challenge what’s possible to create within a set of specified rules.

“You can’t bend a LEGO,” he said. “But that’s the magic of it – you have to figure out how to get the organic curves of nature out of something rigid.”

The traveling exhibit opens Friday and runs through July 10, every day of the week from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Admission is between $15 and $30. Parking is available via the South Shore Visitor’s Center in Poipu and visitors are encouraged to arrive 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure to park and check in. Tours are self-guided and advanced reservations are strongly recommended.

Information: Tessa McSwain at 332-7324, or www.ntbg.org/natureconnects.

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Jessica Else can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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