fbpx
Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Between Art and Engineering: the Kinetic Beasts of Theo Jansen

Theo Jansen, Strandbeesten. Artist’s website.

Contemporary Art

Between Art and Engineering: the Kinetic Beasts of Theo Jansen

Theo Jansen – a Dutch contemporary artist, a sculptor, an engineer, and most significantly, a visionary. The universe in his mind along with his manual capability came together to create rare and breathtaking kinetic sculptures roaming around the Netherlands’ beaches. Welcome to the Strandbeest jungle of Theo Jansen.

I make skeletons that are able to walk on the wind, so they don’t have to eat. Eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.”

—Theo Jansen. Dornob.
Theo Jansen, Currens Ventosa, 1993. Photo by Adrian Kok ©Strandbeest.
Theo Jansen, Currens Ventosa, 1993. Photo by Adrian Kok ©Strandbeest.

Who is Theo Jansen?

Driven by his interest in unconventional technical constructions and the mechanism of evolution, a Dutch contemporary artist born in 1948 with a talent for both physics and art, decided to create his fantastic creatures one day and develop as an artist. In the spirit of Leonardo Da Vinci, Theo Jansen once focused his attention to study science and physical phenomena before he shifted to art. After his abandoned studies at the University of Technology at Delft, Jansen became involved in many projects such as The Flying Saucer Machine in 1980 or The Painting Machine in 1984-86, which involved art and technology. But his most exceptional creations are definitely Strandbeesten.

Theo Jansen, Strandbeest evolution, 2017.
Theo Jansen captured while constructing one of his Strandbeesten
Theo Jansen captured while constructing one of his Strandbeesten, Galerie AKINCI, Amsterdam, 2020. photo: Bart Nieuwenweg.

Theo Jansen and his Strandbeest

Strandbeesten (or Strandbeest in singular) means “beach beasts” in Dutch. Since 1990, Jansen has created large moving kinetic structures that are sometimes wind-propelled and in that way able to move on their own. He entitled them collectively as Strandbeest. These breathtaking creatures traveling over sand resemble walking animals and they are constructed from PVC pipes, wood, fabric airfoils, and zip ties. In fact, materials used for their production are being constantly improved and designed to adapt sandy beaches or different types of environments in which Theo releases them.

Theo Jansen, Duabis Caudis, 2015. ©Strandbeest.
Theo Jansen, Duabis Caudis, 2015. ©Strandbeest.

Their own intelligence

Even in the absence of wind, some of Jansen’s animals are so sophisticated that they can store air pressure in order to propel themselves or are able to detect when they are entering the water and move out of it. He strives to equip his beautiful monsters with their own intelligence to manage avoiding obstacles, by changing their course when one is detected, such as the sea itself. Although the skeletons are clearly recognizable as artificial, they still evoke the organic walking and motor skills of long-legged insects or caterpillars. Basic Strandbeest design uses multiple pairs of these legs set on a central crankshaft, which produces a galloping-herd effect.

The majority of the Jansen’s animals carry Latin titles that often refer to a specific animal (Mulus, 2017), insect (Chalibs, 2018), animal or human body part (Umerus, 2009) or just a Latin noun, adjective or verb (Percipiere Excelsus, 2006). The names’ meanings are connected to each beast’s movement or method of creation.

Theo Jansen, Umerus, 2009. Photo by Loek van Der Klis ©Strandbeest.
Theo Jansen, Umerus, 2009. Photo by Loek van Der Klis ©Strandbeest.

Evolving creatures

Theo also divides his different generations of Strandbeesten into time periods like geologic areas. In the earliest period, he taped tubes together. He calls this the Gluton Period (1990-91) and the first tube-and-tape creation, Animaris Vulgaris, could not stand up. It could only lie on its back and move his legs. In the next period, the Chorda Epoch (1991-93), Jansen began to connect the tubes with nylon zip strips and he built Animaris Currens Vulgaris, the first animal that could stand and walk.

Theo Jansen, Chalibs, 2018.
Theo Jansen, Chalibs, 2018. Artist’s website.

Originally they were conceived as a solution to combat rising sea levels due to global warming, but through two decades of experimentation and development, Strandbeest evolved to respond, interact, and adapt to changing environmental conditions. They can store wind power, navigate the shore with the changing tide, or even anchor themselves ahead of oncoming storms.

The artist often claims that he is not sure whether he is a sculptor or an engineer or something between. His Strandbeesten have been in exhibitions all over the world – Munich, London, Taipei, Madrid, Tokyo, Seoul – and for Jansen, it is not important if they are exhibited in art museums or science centers, they have appeared in both.

Curiosity

Over the years Strandbeesten have became popular culture sensations and in 2016 even featured in an episode of The Simpsons called The Nightmare After Krustmas with Theo Jansen as a cartoon character.

An episode of The Simpsons called "The Nightmare After Krustmas" featuring Theo Jansen and his Strandbeest.
An episode of The Simpsons called “The Nightmare After Krustmas” featuring Theo Jansen and his Strandbeest.

Strandbeest are magnificent wind walkers that bring together art, science, and performance. Through his oeuvre, Theo Jansen developed a deep understanding for the principles of life and the evolution of species. Slowly his beach animals came to life, changed, grew up and their elegant movement should be nowadays observed not only by art lovers or science fans, but by all of us. We should admire the genius of the artists’ capability to bring to life such a beautiful creatures living their own lives in the Netherland coastline.

If you want to learn more about this new and extraordinary animal breed watch the artist himself explaining his projects at the TED Conference which took place in 2011 in his hometown Delft:

Theo Jansen, A new breed of beach animals, TEDxDelft, 2011.

Read more about kinetic art and sculptures:

“I believe that art is the only form of activity in which man assures himself to be a true individual and its capable of going beyond the animal state. Because art is an outlet towards regions, which are not ruled by time and space. And to live is to believe. That´s my belief.” – Marcel Duchamp (1956)

Comments

More in Contemporary Art

  • 21st century

    The Ephemeral Magic of Raw Clay: Artist Interview with Phoebe Cummings

    By

    Phoebe Cummings (b.1981) is a British sculptress-ceramics artist working primarily with unfired, living clay in its raw state. She creates time-based installations that are extremely detailed, delicate, and multi-layered. Phoebe’s exquisite clay sculptures pulse with an irresistible energy as they gradually shapeshift over time shrinking, cracking,...

  • 20th century

    Famous Musicians who Paint: Making Music and Art

    By

    Creatively speaking, the term ‘art’ can mean many things. Whether it is music, writing, painting, sculpting, or drawing, it is all under the umbrella of ‘art.’ For the sake of this article however, let us look at several well-known musicians who created visual art outside of...

  • Roman Opałka, "1965/1-∞", National Gallery of Australia (NGA), 1967-71. Source: National Gallery of Australia. Roman Opałka, "1965/1-∞", National Gallery of Australia (NGA), 1967-71. Source: National Gallery of Australia.

    21st century

    How Roman Opałka Envisioned Infinity

    By

    In 1965, the French-born, Polish painter Roman Opałka came to an important decision. While sitting at the Café Bristol in Warsaw waiting for his wife to arrive, an idea came into his mind, and he began to paint numbers from one to infinity that would progress...

  • 21st century

    Review: The Colour of Abstraction at Grove Square Galleries

    By

    The latest exhibition at London’s Grove Square Galleries, The Colour of Abstraction, is a vibrant group presentation of colorful abstract art. Here we meet the work five exciting young international artists which underlines the exhibition’s subtitle – ‘New Ways of Seeing’. The exhibition gives us an...

  • 21st century

    Andrea Fraser’s Museum Highlights: Artist as Performer

    By

    American-born Andrea Fraser is a leading performance artist of her generation (born 1965), best known for her work on institutional critique. She came to fame during the late 1980s and early 1990s, with her unique performances enacting various museum roles to comment on the elitism of...

To Top