It is both startling and mesmerising to see Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests walk on the beach, sails aflutter and steadily gaining momentum as the wind picks up. These enormous kinetic sculptures are wind-powered machines that the Dutch sculptor Jansen has dedicated almost three decades of his life to, creating a new species on Earth – as he fondly refers to them – that blurs the lines between art and engineering, mechanics and biology.
These self-propelled Strandbeests (“beach animals” in Dutch) are intricately assembled from everyday materials, mostly PVC tubing.
Jansen has exhibited extensively in galleries and museums around the world. His creatures have evolved to be more complex and life-like over time, with specialised adaptations to suit their seaside habitat.
Visitors to the 2016 George Town Festival in Penang were treated to a peek at Jansen’s Strandbeests, but now for the first time in South-East Asia on a larger scale, 13 Strandbeests will be on display in an exhibition at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore, starting June 23.
Wind Walkers: Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests is a major retrospective of the artist’s life work and include his recent models as well as “fossils” of past beests.
These creatures were originally conceived as a solution to address the threat of flooding caused by rising sea levels; the Strandbeests were to roam the beaches, pushing and piling sand on the floor to form natural barriers. Over the years, however, they have morphed from practical machines to a man-made species and have taken on a life of their own.
The exhibition celebrates the thrill of the Strandbeests’ unique locomotion, and the processes and stories that have driven their evolution.
Animaris Ordis (Cerebrum, the Brain Period) is a Strandbeest that Jansen started work on in 2006. It is small, versatile and mobile, harnessing the power of the wind for locomotion and functions as the walking unit of several other larger Strandbeests. In the galleries, where there is no wind, it can be pulled along the gallery floor.
An example of a newer Strandbeest is the Animaris Burchus Primus (Bruchum, the Caterpillar Period), which adopts a new style of walking that allows for better manoeuvring on rough and uneven sand.
As for the “fossils”, say hello to the Animaris Rigide Properans (Tepideem, the Less-Hot Period), a Strandbeest developed in the mid-1990s that walks sideways against the direction of the wind at considerable speed. Jansen calls this one his “sturdy, hasty beach animal”, now conferred the title of “fossil” as it is a retired creature that can no longer move.
“I am excited to bring the Strandbeests to ArtScience Museum in Singapore and I hope that the audience will enjoy interacting with them as much as I have creating them. The Strandbeests will remind visitors to push the boundaries of their creativity and never give up on their dreams,” says the trained physicist, who ended up being a painter before focusing his attention on sculptures.
Wind Walkers uses compelling design, hands-on educational displays and educational artwork to reflect Jansen’s philosophy that “the walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds”. There will be a comprehensive collection of films, prints, artist sketches and prototypes, an immersive environment that recreates his workshop, as well as interactive activities that explore the creativity of his engineering.
“Since 1990, I have been occupied with creating new forms of life. I make skeletons that are able to walk on the wind, so they don’t have to eat,” Jansen notes on his website.
“Over time, these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storm and water, and eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.”
Set them free, the wind and the world will take care of the rest.