Blowing in the wind

STORY Cristina Bigliatti
Photo Marco Zwinkles © Media Force

The combination of art and engineering is at the heart of the works of Theo Jansen, artist and physicist who for decades has combined his knowledge in the field of science with his own characteristic sensitivity to create objects that look like living huge animals on the beach. In actual fact they are not really alive, but they can walk independently and even change their behaviour patterns depending on the conditions of the environment in which they are located.
PVC tubes, Sellotape, rubber bands, clamps, recycled plastic bottles, wooden sticks and pellets: these are the things that have turned Theo Jansen into a small Leonardo da Vinci for the new millennium. After extensive research and many experiments, the artist has managed to create structures that are able to walk along the wide Dutch beaches using nothing more than kinetic force assisted by the wind. Years of studies and months of processing algorithms have established the exact geometric combinations capable of producing the desired movements of the “paws”.

Strandbeests, or beach beasts in English are impressive kinetic sculptures whose size and fluidity of movements are truly striking. The power of the sea breezes combined with a series of specifically designed mechanisms allows these gigantic works to stroll along the beach. The genius of these structures lies in their ability to store the air and use it with no wind to move about in any weather situation and thus these enormous structures can survive and adapt to different circumstances: beautiful and incredibly engineered.
Doubtless entomology or rather the study of insects has definitely helped Mr. Jansen in the creation of these masterpieces and without the wind none of this would be possible, but it is thanks to the techniques developed by the artist that the Strandbeests come to life. Nature and artifice work together in the name of art to produce monumental works that are as impressive as they are entertaining.
Theo Jansen’s dream is to achieve a degree of independence so as to free up veritable herds of Strandbeests on Dutch beaches.
It would be delightful to see a display of this kind: post-apocalyptic landscapes populated by huge insects that reclaim the environment – a kind of artistic Jurassic Park where nature and artifice come together for the sole purpose of making our world a little bit more magical.