Friday, February 7, 2014

Theo Jansen's New Species: Strandbeests

          Dutch artist, Theo Jansen, is responsible for the creation of a completely new breed of art. Jansen’s Strandbeests, or beach beasts, walk the shores of his childhood home in Holland. They began in a computer program and were born into the world in the form of plastic tubes, nylon thread, and adhesive tape. Strandbeests need no engine of any type as they move in accordance with the strength of the wind and the moisture of the sand. The animal’s brain is a system of tubes and airflow that directs the body where and how far to travel. The Strandbeests pass along their DNA in the form of tube and tape measurements corresponding to the most durable of beasts. These numbers constitute the genetic code of the beasts most likely to survive and reproduce. Reproduction takes place through a “virus” in the mind of the individual recreating the Strandbeests. Jansen’s continues his work so that one day the beasts will evolve without human intervention.
          Strandbeests’ novelty and potential practicality correlate with Sternberg’s idea of creativity. Jansen seemed to have worked backward with his Strandbeests. Their design originated in a computer, yet he constructed them from the most mundane of ingredients. These works can be seen as pieces of art alone. Their design and fluid, yet mechanical movements are unique. It is incredible that they run merely on the force of air and texture of sand. Jansen has accomplished a new feet in that the these objects are able to stand alone and move without the use of electricity. Not only are the extraordinarily simple compositions of these works of art just as stunning as their prehistoric shape, but they are equally as inspirational in their application to real world needs. The engineering field has taken notice of Jansen’s history in physics, aeronautics, robotics, painting, and Strandbeests in order to create technological advances with minimal environmental impact. The uniqueness of these creations and the shift they have given the world of machinery have been embraced more and more by the public, especially since Jansen has started seventh run of Strandbeest design. The genius of these creatures may find their roots in Jansen’s childhood in Holland during the 1940s.
Jansen was a child during the time of the Dutch Hongerwinter, a huge famine in the Netherlands during WWII due to Nazi occupation. Thousands of people died while he and his siblings recall having had a diet of milk powder and charcoal for months at a time. It seems that Jansen’s inability to depend on his environment surrounds the wonderfully independent, self-sustaining creation of the Strandbeests. It is as if they represent his response to the environment. The very image, construction, and pragmatism of the Strandbeests exemplify Jansen’s incredible capacity for mental imagery and his creativity-relevant skills of working through much complexity and approaching art and engineering in a counter intuitive way. The result is a unique form of art with exciting potential for environmental and societal impact.




  1. I am greatly intrigued by this multidisciplinary art form. To combine computer graphics, engineering, and the environment to create an increasingly independent and freely moving sculpture is fascinating. I can only imagine the expression of a wayward beach goer or child upon first seeing these things scuttle across the sand. Yet, I am confused by the inter-splicing of genetic and reproductive language about these Beach Beasts. Does the artist just remake/reutilize the designs of the beasts that last the longest for future designs or does he hope that advances in the field will allow these creatures to obtain some sort of independence. Regardless, I would love to see these behemoths straddling the dunes.

  2. I am also confused as to how the Strand Beasts would 'reproduce'--it seems that other engineers would need to be involved. Details aside, though, this is an exciting live arts piece, and is all the more fascinating considering where Jansen's inspiration seems to have come from. Another case of environment giving way to creative paradigm shifts--and a recycling project to boot!


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