Theo Jansen is a kinetic sculptor—yet that seemingly innocuous title hardly does credit to his signature creation, the Strandbeest.
A Strandbeest—literally, a “beach animal”—has an organic appearance only with the most liberal stretch of the imagination. They’re an amalgam of wood, PVC, canvas…and that’s exactly what they look like. As a product of artistic engineering, they have a rugged sort of industrial beauty. But do they in any way seem alive?
They move…either under force of wind or by human nudging…and yes, oh my yes, they are surely alive.
Until now, the Deconstruction’s fascination with the Uncanny Valley has been limited to solely the anthropomorphic kind. The Strandbeest has put paid to that. Watching a sculpture scuttle across the sand in the manner of a massive and massively misshapen hermit crab has widened the valley. And that valley shall never close.
A wary welcome then (wary only in terms of unsettled appreciation) to Theo Jansen and his Strandbeests, which are now set to inhabit American shores. The Peabody Essex Museum of Salem, Massachusetts is hosting “The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen” from September 19th to January 3rd.
But what if they like it here? What if they refuse to leave?