Strandbeests walk MA beach, Media Lab demo is upcoming

Artist will be present for panel discussion pre-exhibit

Theo Jansen’s wind-powered strandbeests (Dutch for “beach animals”) roamed the beach in Ipswitch last Saturday, Aug. 22. It was their first stop on a tour that will take them through Boston, to MIT, and that will culminate in an exhibition of the artist’s work at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM).

Strandbeests are the result of Jansen’s efforts to create “new forms of life.” Ranging in size from human-height to elephantine, strandbeests are made primarily of PVC pipe, zip ties, and elastic bands. They contain no computers or motors but are able to move on their own, powered by wind collected by billowing sails. Jansen sees them as autonomous, intelligent life forms.

“Eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on beaches, so they will live their own lives,” Jansen wrote on his website.

Strandbeests will roam in Boston on Friday, Aug. 28 at City Hall Plaza and Rose Kennedy Greenway. On Sept. 10, they will be displayed at the Media Lab. A panel discussion with Jansen, PEM curator Trevor Smith, and MIT associate professor Neri Oxman will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. Afterwards, the strandbeests (of the species Animaris Ordis) will walk outdoors.

Some animal species have “stomachs” consisting of recycled plastic bottles containing air that can be pumped up to a high pressure by the wind. These “stomachs” allow the animal to store energy, and move self-propelled without the aid of wind. PVC pipe “muscles” allow the animal to move, and a “brain,” which consists of coordinated muscle systems, acts as a control center.

“I’ve always been dreaming, of course, that you could feed tubes to an animal and they would make a new animal,” Jansen told the Boston Globe. “That would be the ultimate reproduction idea.”

The PEM will host an exhibition of six species of strandbeest. Jansen, who drew inspiration from biologist Richard Dawkins, created species of creatures that evolve and go “extinct” after year-long life cycles.

“As soon as the development of an animal is at its end, I declare it extinct,” says Jansen on his website. His animals “evolve” as he tests different innovations to make them increasingly autonomous and incorporates successful ones.

“Hopefully, before I leave the planet, I can leave a new specimen on earth that can make their own decisions,” Jansen told the Globe.