Australian artists Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro have traveled all over the world for their work, but one of their must-see stops on their first trip to Europe wasn’t an art gallery or a museum. It was Legoland in Denmark, home of the tiny toy building block. Cordeiro said their trip was a “pilgrimage.” Cordiero said that the time he spent in Legoland played tricks on his mind. After a while, “You can’t figure out what’s made out of Legos, and what isn’t,” he said.
Cordiero and Healy chose Legos to make sense of an event that played tricks on their minds since childhood: the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. The tragedy killed all seven crew members, including teacher Christa McAuliffe.
“It was one of those memories where you think you remember,” said Cordiero, who was in grade school at the time, watching from several time zones away. “I couldn’t have been at school, but I remember being at school.” Inspired by McAuliffe, who was supposed to teach children from space, the artists decided to use Legos to depict the tragedy.
Healy and Cordeiro, married artists who have collaborated since 2001, built Lego wall sculptures that emulate the TV images of the shuttle’s explosion.
The Lego sculptures, part of a series called “Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, Why,” are part of the pair’s first U.S. show, “Are We There Yet?” It opens Dec. 3 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The show addresses themes of space travel, taking its cues from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Along with the Lego wall sculptures, the show also hosts an installation that evokes the final scene of Kubrick’s classic film. Cordeiro and Healy have posed a real NASA spacesuit in a bedroom with golden floors. The artists have surrounded the astronaut with the amount of food it would take to feed a man 3,800 calories per day for a 520-day journey to Mars and back. The food is stacked in pyramids that orbit the astronaut’s bed like planets, and reference the work of Andy Warhol.
As for the Legos, the children’s toy is becoming more prominent as an art material — though many of the other artists who utilize the medium aren’t taken as seriously. The most recent example is the Dutch artist Ego Leonard, who created a giant lego man that washed up on a beach in Florida. Healy and Cordeiro weren’t aware of other artists who work in blocks. “We thought it was an interesting way to build something about destruction,” he said.