How a Kiwi kid scored a major part in Auckland Museum's Lego Relics: A New World Arises exhibit

We've all spent time with Lego.

Whether it's casually assembling bricks with family members at holiday time, or devoting hours to a particularly tricky build, Lego has the power to connect generations.

But for 12-year-old Oliver Mulholland of Northcote in Auckland, it's an obsession.

"I can't remember a time without it," he tells Newshub atop the Auckland Museum ahead of the launch of the new exhibition Relics: A New World Arises.

The exhibition has been assembled by Lego Masters Australia winners and childhood friends Alex Towler and Jackson Harvey. Set in the year 2530, when humanity has deserted the Earth after an ecological disaster, the exhibition shows what happens when Lego Minifigures take over the relics that have been left behind.

From a group living inside a VW Beetle to an intricate civilisation housed within a Space Invaders arcade machine, the post-apocalyptic series of pieces meshes Fallout and Bioshock retro aesthetics with around 2000 Lego mini-figures and pieces for maximum effect. 

But ahead of its Auckland Museum tenure (the show's first international stop outside their native Australia), the pair launched a competition to find a Kiwi-inspired piece that would fit in to their world. 

Step forward Lego enthusiast Oliver Mulholland.

He took first place with his Lollycake Lego complete with a cult of Lego mini-figure followers living atop it. Central to the piece is a Lego-made Edmonds cookbook.

Mulholland says he drew inspiration from home.

"I came up with it by just looking over at my kitchen shelf, and there was the cookbook and I thought I could try and mix that in. Then I got the idea of making a fruit cake."

Oliver's mum, Rachael, tells Newshub true to how children operate, he only told her about wanting to do it "a couple of days before" and he spent "the whole day, every day" pulling it together before the competition closed.

Both Towler and Harvey are in awe of what Oliver created.

Lego Lollycake was Oliver Mulholland's winning piece.
Lego Lollycake was Oliver Mulholland's winning piece. Photo credit: Newshub

"When we were looking at all the different entrants, one thing that really stood out to us about that one was the way that Oliver had referenced the graphic design of the recipe book, incorporated the colours and shapes from that and then did his story on top of all that," Harvey reveals.

Towler is a little more jealous of what Oliver created, joking with Newshub: "I wish I was as good at Lego at Oliver's age! I'm not sure what I was building at 12, but it didn't look like that!"

Harvey also admits the New Zealand talent was impressive.

"The kids just have such an eye for it. All of the people who have submitted builds for our competition have shown this incredible understanding of mini-figures. They are our favourite part of Lego. Kids - these guys just get it."

Mulholland says he has no plans to give up Lego, saying he wants to make "a giant diorama of this huge wonderland that is just filled with scenery, mountains and architecture to sculpt and stuff like that," but Towler knows he's at a difficult age when most kids begin to turn their back on their bricks' obsession.

Alex Towler and Jackson Harvey with one of their favourite pieces from the show.
Alex Towler and Jackson Harvey with one of their favourite pieces from the show. Photo credit: Supplied

"Both my parents were certainly very supportive of my Lego passion. Jackson was known as the Lego kid in his primary school. I don't think you can be the parents of the Lego kid and not be swayed."

"But people drift away from it in their teen years because that's when you're rapidly exposed to all these different elements of life," Towler says, revealing he too fell into what he calls the "Lego Dark Ages".

"It's quite often the common experience but I loved being brought back to it as an adult - it was incredibly rewarding. Lego is very much a valid creative medium, and it has incredible capability as a creative medium. But also on top of that, it's a very accessible medium. Everybody has a connection to Lego and everybody understands how Lego pieces fit together, which means that it's accessible for everybody. It's a great outlet for creativity for a broad audience. There's not so many opportunities for parents and kids to connect in such an organic and authentic way today."

However, the Lego Masters 2020 winners are also acutely aware of how worried people are about the environmental impact from the amount of plastic used to make the toy and how much is just discarded when you're finished with it. 

Behind the scenes of the Lego exhibition - how Jackson and Alex sorted a "metric ton" of Lego.
Behind the scenes of the Lego exhibition - how Jackson and Alex sorted a "metric ton" of Lego. Photo credit: Supplied

So much so that they were determined that all of the pieces in the exhibition - from the retro fittings like a VW Beetle, old clock tower, or piano - were all second-hand. Along with every single bit of Lego used - which came from boxes and boxes of used parts. 

It also meant the boys had no time to be distracted by anything they found, or go off track and start building.

"We sourced a metric ton of bulk Lego from family members and others, like people who had collected Lego and wanted to part with it. 

"We had so much to get through that we had to be very focused on sorting. But it's funny, after hours and hours of picking through, you become a sorting machine yourself and it all feels very autonomous!" Towler laughs.

Yet despite being Lego Masters, both of them still fell foul to the worst thing you can ever do with the toy - standing on it barefoot.

2000 Lego mini-figures have been used to create scenes like this.
2000 Lego mini-figures have been used to create scenes like this. Photo credit: Supplied

"It's basically impossible to keep it in its container as it explodes out of the floor, but that's actually the best bit," Jackson shares.

"How many pieces did we stand on? I'm pretty sure by the end of the production process, most of the floor was Lego. So, a lot," Towler laughs 

"We lost count!"

Relics: A New World Arises runs at the Auckland Museum until October 13.