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Hannah Jones

Nature POP! at the Zoo — The “perfect union” between art, science and nature

The monarch butterfly — made from 18,432 LEGO bricks — took 32 hours to assemble. (Photo courtesy of Zoo Atlanta)

When taking a walk through Zoo Atlanta this summer, visitors will notice some animals that weren’t there before. But unlike their furry and feathered neighbors, these animals are crafted from tens of thousands of LEGO bricks. That’s right, your favorite toy from childhood has come to life.

Featuring 40 sculptures of animals and nature scenes crafted entirely from LEGO bricks, Nature POP! highlights the intersection of nature, art and humankind.

Artist Sean Kenney (Photo courtesy of Zoo Atlanta)

The exhibition, created by artist Sean Kenney and produced by Imagine Exhibitions, made its debut at the Zoo on May 13. Kenney is an award-winning artist specializing in LEGO sculptures for over 15 years.

The pop-art sculptures depict a wide variety of animals, using vibrant, bold colors that makes the sculptures stand out from the surrounding green and brown tones of the Zoo. Kenney — who is also known as “LEGO’s best customer” — used a total of 800,000 pieces for the exhibition. 

The dodo bird went extinct around 1681. (Photo by Hannah E. Jones)

The displays show incredible depth, with the layers of blocks resembling a topographic map. Each color is selected intentionally and holds importance — a blue polar bear symbolizing glaciers and the loss of their habitat; the pink dog representing the animal’s playfulness; a dodo bird crafted from the colors of a sunset, serving as a metaphor for the extinction of the species. 

In this exhibition, Kenney regards art and science as working together rather than separately. (Photo by Hannah E. Jones)

The LEGO pieces — all fitting together to create something larger — represents the idea that everything on Earth is interconnected. The displays also highlight the intricate relationships in nature, like how animals interact with each other and their environment and how humans impact these fragile ecosystems.

This overarching purpose is driven home by accompanying signs that break down the message behind each piece, analyzing the subject from the perspective of a scientist and an artist. This subtle addition engages the viewer and encourages them to consider the deeper meaning of the exhibition — nature appreciation and conservation.

Jennifer Smith, vice president of Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives at the Zoo, describes the exhibit as “the perfect union” of art, science and nature.

She added that the team was drawn to Kenney’s unconventional work because art is another avenue to engage folks in environmentalism.

“The ability to have messages reach new audiences sometimes requires some creative thinking and telling stories in different ways. People learn things differently; people receive messages differently,” Smith said. “It’s a little bit non-traditional when you think of a Zoo, but [the exhibition] still connects to our mission and connects to what we do. Really, it’s about telling the story in different ways.” 

“The Gardeners” reminds viewers of our responsibility to protect the environment. (Photo by Hannah E. Jones)

This idea is reflected in “Gardeners” — the only display depicting humans. The piece depicts an adult and child watering a plant. The plant was crafted in blue LEGO bricks, symbolizing the importance of clean water and protecting the Earth’s waterways. 

This scene also represents a teaching moment for the younger generations, highlighting the importance of appreciation and stewardship of the environment.

While the sculptures are crafted with LEGO pieces, a classic childhood toy, this isn’t a project that could be easily replicated on a rainy afternoon. These pieces take a lot of time and dedication from Kenney and his team. 

A behind the scenes look at the woodpecker display. The team spent 124 hours constructing the statue made of 32,650 LEGO bricks. (Photo courtesy of Zoo Atlanta)

For example, the dodo bird display was crafted with 29,750 bricks, taking 76 hours to assemble. The heaviest piece is the blue polar bear, weighing around 600 lbs with 12,450 pieces and taking 389 hours to create.

For those inspired by Kenney’s pop-art sculptures, the Zoo encourages folks to submit an entry in the Build Your Best challenge. From now until July 15, anyone can submit their own LEGO sculpture that depicts an animal or scene from the Zoo, or your imagination, for the chance to win a one-year family membership to the Zoo.

Ultimately, the Zoo Atlanta team hopes that the exhibition inspires folks to become champions of the environment while also enjoying the fun, spunky artwork.

“There are messages related to conservation that people can come away with, which will hopefully inspire conservation action,” Smith said. “And it’s art. It’s interesting because it’s made from such a medium that’s accessible to everybody. It could inspire people in a lot of ways, whether it’s conservation action or learning how to engineer something like that. Whether you look at [the displays] and just think they’re beautiful, or if you take something away from it, there’s value in that.”

Click here for more details on the Zoo’s new NATURE POP! exhibition.

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Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native who recently graduated from Georgia State University, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah is excited about the opportunity to serve the City of Atlanta and its people. Hannah can be reached at hannah@saportareport.com.

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