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Strandbeest

MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, Massachusetts September 10

Animaris Apodiacula (2013). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo: Uros Kirn

In videos, the Strandbeests — wings out, interacting with nature — come across as prehistoric, reptilian, and mesmerizingly engaged with their windswept, deserted-coast settings. So when I walked in to the Media Lab, my first reaction to the two static structures in the lobby was one of disappointment — because of their scale (much more diminutive in reality than in the imagination) and their materiality (plastic tubing).

 

But then, as I listened to the humble and humorous Dutchman Theo Jansen talk about his creations, these sculptures became mystical again. Jansen, whose trajectory took him from physics student to painter to three-dimensional artist, described his initial engineering failures and how his Strandbeests evolved with him, as a designer. He explained his process using the inexpensive and readily accessible tubing to create the structures’ “joint configuration,” which allows them to “walk,” the design of which he posted online so that his creatures could be replicated by others.

Tinkerers across the globe propagate these animalistic frameworks — with mutations akin to an evolving life form. For Jansen, the sharing of this “DNA code” and the replication of his vision renders his kinetic art form all the more compelling than his initial creation. What makes these beasts so appealing? It’s seeing their insides, how they work, and their locomotion pattern in open space.

At the MIT symposium, dismal weather and an absence of air currents meant volunteers had to propel the skeletal creatures about to demonstrate their movement, a less-than-evocative necessity for the standing-room-only crowd. If you head to the Peabody Essex Museum to check out the exhibit there, pray for wind.


Jansen's Strandbeests:

Theo Jansen, Scheveningen beach, Netherlands (2011). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis.

Animaris Umerus, Scheveningen beach, Netherlands (2009). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis.

Theo Jansen fixing a joint, Scheveningen beach, Netherlands (2010). Photo by Lena Herzog.

Theo Jansen & Animaris Siamesis, Scheveningen beach, Netherlands (2010). Photo by Lena Herzog.​

Theo Jansen & Animaris Umerus, Scheveningen beach, Netherlands (2009). Photo by Lena Herzog.