Dutch artist Theo Jansen has created what he posits is a new group of living creatures through his art: the Strandbeests, walking sculptures of lightweight plastic tubing, that “feed” off windpower and spend their natural lives frolicking in the tidelines of northern beaches!
Strandbeests can be quite complicated in structure, but their operation is straightforward: wind caught in the sail-like fins on the sculptures’ backs oscillates their (many!) legs and allows for side-to-side movement. The Strandbeests live on the damp sand of beaches; intake pipes detect when they venture too far into dunes or water, causing them to careen the other way to keep themselves safe.
The creations really need to be seen in action: check out the artist’s website here for video evidence. They do look very much alive — and that is what intrigues me most about this project. Jansen envisions creating whole herds of these sculptures, and setting them free on beaches where they will live out their natural “lifespans” feeding and journeying. He also considers them to have a primitive “brain:” the step counter that helps a Strandbeest remember where it last encountered water. Could these sculptures actually be considered living things, by this definition? It would be a different kind of artificial life than that which we are used to contemplating — and perhaps dreading — more peaceful, and environmentally attuned, perhaps? It’s interesting to contemplate, and life-form or no, admire as sculptural art.