Drawing between the lines

Someone asked me recently what it was that I was after in my exploration of Second Life as an artistic medium, or, more accurately, as a base of operations and a springboard to first life for my creative activities. Interesting question, though, because it goes straight to the heart of the matter; no ifs, ands or buts. Simple and direct. My answer? “I’m looking for the legos behind it all.” Sounds flippant, I know, but it was a light-hearted way to express a serious endeavor.. to be able to delve into the deeper aspects of the virtual soul while playing like a child in my very own wonderland. Pixels, legos, atoms – they’re all children’s blocks in a big old cosmic game; God, man, avatar – the chain gets bigger, but the game remains the same.

That lego comment reminded of another serious artist who once took a detour off his career path to play with legos, also for a very serious reason. Norman Mailer, the great 20th century novelist, once built his utopian vision of “The City of the Future” in his living room, using thousands of legos to bring forth his dream. This fascinating story was recounted in Mary Dearborn’s Mailer: A Biography:

In many ways this was a typically Mailerian project. He announced it in advance in the pages of the New York Times Magazine and, to underline his seriousness, in Architectural Forum. The prose city he outlined would change the face not only of public architecture but of society itself. He had long blamed architecture for many of the woes of contemporary society, and now he applied himself to setting forth his plans in pronouncements and, beginning in the fall of 1965, the creation of an actual model city, immense in scale and meticulously planned.He decided to build a model of a city that could be populated by 4 million people, and to build it in his own living room. He conceived it as a monument to his sweeping utopian vision.

At the quotidian level, Norman acted as the brains behind the project, soon discovering that he didn’t like the sound of the plastic Lego pieces snapping together; it struck him as vaguely obscene. He delegated the task to [fourth wife] Beverly’s stepbrother, Charlie Brown, who worked as a kind of handyman for him, and to Eldred Mowery, a friend from Provincetown now in the city. The two men drove Norman’s 1961 blue convertible Falcon out to the Lego plant in New Jersey and returned with cases of the colored blocks. Then Norman directed them, instructing them to create hanging bridges, buildings with trapdoors, and four-foot-high towers, all constructed on an aluminum-covered piece of plywood on a four-by-eight-foot sheet of plywood supported by five-foot legs.

Construction proceeded apace, and Norman never really did call a halt to it. But someone from the Museum of Modern Art came out to Brooklyn to take photographs of the model, hoping to display it at the museum. At that point, Mailer and his helpers found that the “city” could not be taken out of the apartment. though they consulted movers with cranes and took measurements of the glass in the front windows, they soon saw that it couldn’t be removed without being disassembled first. Here Norman drew the line. He told Mowery to build a fence around it and leave it where it was. There it still sits, occupying a third of the living room’s floor space. Beverly, who contributed a scale model of the United Nations to indicate the overall scale of the city, professes that she loved it, but concedes, ‘It was a bitch to dust.’

Though, like most utopian visions it never came to fruition, the image of one of the giants of American literature stretched out on the floor snapping legos together for hours and hours on end is one that stuck with me; and, in my own experience,  the best work I’ve done has always seemed to pour out of me like a kid with finger paints. So, I suppose a good definition of the word ‘master’ could well be: someone who makes extraordinary accomplishments look like child’s play.

Let the games begin.

Read the complete article at Greg.org.

http://greg.org/archive/2008/04/08/lego_city_of_the_future_by_norman_mailer_friends.html
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