God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. -Ralph W. Emerson
Theo Jansen is one of those people I call InnovActors – individuals who are taking ostensibly different things and bringing them together to make something more powerful, something completely authentic. InnovActors are focused on DOING, not just dreaming. InnovActors are brave thinkers, trail blazers and fearless takers who are not afraid to step on the line.
Dat ding is aan het lopen! ”That thing is walking!” That’s what people yell in Dutch when they see Jansen’s magnificent motile sculptures. The Strandbeests are made of simple plastic tubes but the mechanics involved have transformed them into mythical beasts.
Lena Herzog photographed the sculptures for The New Yorker. In repose they look like piles of sticks. But then, they bewitch the viewer as they, inanimate objects, suddenly come to life in a kind of Biblical moment. And the God of the Wind said “motility” and the Strandbeest propelled itself forward without foreign aid. The writer Ian Frazier who saw the beests in their native habitat on the sandy shores of Holland said it was like “watching a haystack do the Macarena”.
In 1990 Jansen wrote an article for De Volkskrant saying that rising sea levels might erode the outlines of Holland. He proposed building some mechanical creatures that would toss sand in the air as they moved, thereby augmenting the size of the dunes on the coast. He discovered the Strandbeest on his way to fulfilling this civic commitment.
Jansen, who fell under the spell of his own creations, divided them into periods – similar to geological eras – to track their evolution. He began by making simple creatures in the Gluton Period (1990-91) which could only move their legs while lying on their backs. Then in the Chorda Period (1991-93) he made animals that could stand and walk. He has said the most charming thing about them. “The walking Strandbeest is a body snatcher. It charms people and then uses them so they can’t do anything else but follow.”
Always I have a new plan, but then it is corrected by the requirements of tubes. They dictate to me what to do… Solutions of engineers are often much alike, because human brains are much alike. Everything we think can in principle be thought by someone else. The real ideas, as evolution shows, come about by chance. Reality is creative. Maybe that is why the Strandbeests appear to be alive, and charm us. The Strandbeests themselves let me make them. – Theo Jansen
I love the idea that Reality is creative, that we make it up as we go along, that the really great stuff comes about with a glint of magic. We are like these creatures. They respond to the pull and push of the winds. We respond to life’s opportunities. We create opportunities. But, in the end, all our plans are just preparations for the glorious acts of Chance.