Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests Visit the Exploratorium This Summer
Giant, Wind-powered Kinetic Creatures, Photographic Installation on View from May 27-September 5, 2016
Starting Memorial Day weekend, guests will have a chance to see and experience Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests at the Exploratorium. (Photo Gayle Laird/Exploratorium)
SAN FRANCISCO — This summer West Coast audiences will have a unique opportunity to see and experience the global phenomena known as Strandbeests (“beach animals”), the wind-powered creatures that blur the lines between art, science and engineering. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends, this temporary exhibition will debut to the public on May 27, 2016 and close on September 5, 2016.
Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen features large-scale kinetic sculptures, including Jansen’s newest and never-before-seenAnimaris Umerus Segundus, as well as artist sketches, immersive video, and the lyrical photography by Lena Herzog, who spent more than seven years documenting the Strandbeests’ evolution. The exhibition, organized by the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), is the first large-scale museum presentation of Jansen’s Strandbeests in the Americas. The Exploratorium serves as the exclusive West Coast venue.
Marina McDougall, Director of the Center for Art & Inquiry, believes that Jansen’s work and process perfectly embody the Exploratorium’s interdisciplinary and inquiry-based approach to art, discovery and learning.
“Jansen exemplifies the Exploratorium ethos of a life inspired by imagination, curiosity and creativity,” McDougall said. “At the Exploratorium, we value art as a process of inquiry, a way of knowing. We believe that art is for everybody and integrated with other disciplinary approaches deepens learning and discovery. As an artist/engineer with a background in physics, Jansen embodies this ideal.”
First conceived as a thought experiment in the spirit of Albert Einstein, Strandbeests have evolved over the last 20 years through Jansen’s passionate process of prodigious tinkering, iteration and adaptation. Made entirely of PVC pipe and zip ties, the animals were originally inspired by the threat of rising sea levels; the mechanical creatures were functional and able to pile sand back up on the dunes. Over time, the animals evolved as Jansen became more fascinated with exploring ideas around the origins of life.
“Jansen’s work provokes us to consider evolutionary processes of adaption, and our own role in re-shaping the world around us,” McDougall said. “Jansen is animated by a grand, seemingly impossible ambition of animating the humble material of PVC into herds of creatures that move on their own and can be replicated. His work compels us to consider how the very definition of life turns out to be a trickier thing to define than we might initially think.”
Participatory, hands-on and kinetic, the exhibition invites the public to “walk” a Strandbeest (Animarus Ordis) in the galleries. The exhibition features some of Jansen’s most recent and ambitious Strandbeests, including the 42-foot-long, pneumatically poweredAnimaris Suspendisse, which features a responsive nervous system, sweat glands and wind stomachs. A collection of “fossils” (the term Jansen uses for his retired creations) and the future of their evolution is celebrated through a section of the exhibition that captures Jansen’s 20-year process of invention.
Jansen is looking forward to returning to and working with the Exploratorium after an initial visit in 2014, when he made a special appearance at the museum’s annual spring gala.
“Our partnership just fits so well. It is exciting to see the mix of imagination and science at the Exploratorium,” Jansen said. “The Exploratorium and I both try to get people surprised about the big miracle we are living in. And we both try to put reality in a certain perspective and make the viewer aware of the beauty of the world. My work may do it in a somewhat more romantic way, but I see my work as a fairy tale with strong roots to reality.”
Given the interdisciplinary nature of Jansen’s work, it is expected that a wide range of audiences will be attracted to the exhibition.
“When Jansen was here in 2014 we discovered how deeply his work resonates with the Bay Area creative communities,” McDougall said. “Many people have experienced Strandbeest as video that has gone viral on the Internet. Visitors will now get a chance to see Strandbeests in person, watch them move, understand the mechanisms behind them, marvel at Jansen’s inventiveness, and even contemplate the nature of life itself.”
Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA. Audemars Piguet provided generous support as the tour’s National Sponsor. ABC7 is the exhibition’s local media sponsor.