Strandbeests, Wind-Powered Mechanical Beasts, Will Walk Around Boston

The Peabody Essex Museum is bringing Theo Jansen’s creatures to Crane Beach, City Hall Plaza, Rose Kennedy Greenway, and MIT before a major exhibition in September.

strandbeest boston

Animaris Umerus, Scheveningen beach, The Netherlands (2009). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis

For the past 20 years, Dutch artist Theo Jansen has been perfecting a new form of life—the “Strandbeest.”

Like a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci, Jansen has applied both artistic and engineering skills to create the giant mechanical creatures that can walk on their own, powered only by the wind.

“Strandbeests”—or “beach animals”—consist of skeletons fashioned from lightweight PVC tubes. Wind propels their wing-like sails, which then drives their feet to walk sideways. Created on the Dutch seaside, the strandbeests know to avoid water, walking in the opposite direction as soon as it comes in contact with their feelers.

Over the past two decades, the strandbeests have evolved, with Jansen creating a variety new species—some that are even able to store wind power. Ultimately, the artist hopes to let herds of strandbeests “live their own lives,” leaving them to survive on their own.

In September, the Peabody Essex Museum will host the first major American exhibition of Jansen’s strandbeests, complete with the kinetic sculptures themselves, artist sketches, demonstrations of the creatures’ ambulatory systems, a hall of their “fossils,” and photography by Lena Herzog, who has been following their evolution.

But before the exhibit opens, PEM is offering locals a chance to see the creatures in action. Beginning in late August, the museum will host a series of pop-ups during which two strandbeests, called Animaris Ordis, will demonstrate their walking abilities.

Here’s the schedule:

– Saturday, August 22, 10 a.m.-noon, at Crane Beach, Ipswich

– Friday, August 28, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., at City Hall Plaza

– Friday, August 28, 4:30-7 p.m. at the Rose Kennedy Greenway at Dewey Square

– Thursday, September 10, 3-7 p.m. at MIT Media Lab in Cambridge (a panel discussion with Jansen, PEM curator Trevor Smith, and MIT associate professor Neri Oxman will take place from 3 to 5 p.m., after which the strandbeests will walk around the plaza outside).

 

Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen opens September 19 at the Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex St., Salem. The exhibit will run through January 3, 2016, after which it will travel to the Chicago Cultural Center and San Francisco’s Exploratorium. For more information, visit pem.org/strandbeest.