Wind Powered Sculpture

Source: The New Yorker

If you’re like many people, you’ve probably come across Theo Jansen’s kinetic sculptures in videos online. Jansen, aged sixty-three, is a Dutch artist who lives in Delft, near the North Sea. For the past twenty-one years, he has devoted himself to constructing animals that can walk on the beach powered only by the wind. His name for his animals is Strandbeests, which means “beach animals” in Dutch. Some creatures have batwing-like sails, and most are made of accumulations of stiff plastic tubes. Robert Kloos, the director for Visual Arts, Architecture, and Design at the Consulate General of the Netherlands, has been working with other fans of Theo’s to find a venue and funding for a show in New York City in 2013. Mentions a BMW commercial featuring Theo’s creations which has already received more than four million hits on YouTube. The writer flew to Holland to visit Theo and observe his work. Theo grew up in Scheveningen, a small port city just north of Delft. He studied physics at the Delft University of Technology, yet left in 1974 without a degree. In 1990, he proposed in a column for De Volkskrant, a national newspaper, that animals could be built that would toss sand in the air so that it would land on and augment the seaside dunes which protected the country from flooding. He promised to devote a year to this project, and it has occupied him exclusively ever since. He divides his different generations of Strandbeests into time periods like geologic eras. Basic Strandbeest design uses multiple pairs of legs set on a central crankshaft, which produces a galloping-herd effect. Theo’s beach headquarters is a cabaret-restaurant called De Fuut (the Grebe). Its owner likes to have him and his Strandbeests on the sand beside his restaurant’s outdoor dining area. On a Saturday morning, Theo loaded several Strandbeests on a rented flatbed trailer and the roof of his Volvo and drove to beach ramp No. 10 with his friends Hans and Loek. At the beach, four Delft University of Technology students were waiting for him. Theo pounded metal stakes into the sand and tethered Strandbeests to them. Mentions the Rijksmuseum. Theo went ahead with beach trials the following afternoon. He was devoting all his energy to getting a Strandbeest he called Animaris Gubernare up and moving. This colossus had fan-blade-driven air pumps, ninety-six plastic 1.5-litre bottles to store the compressed air, and a stegosaurus-like nose. Mentions Lena Herzog. Theo often says that he does not know if he is a sculptor or an engineer or what. The writer’s theory about Theo is that he is secretly a landscape artist. The great Dutch painters painted windmills, he builds wild new kinds of windmills for acute observers to photograph. Read more 

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