The Artistry of Theo Jansen

Theo JansenTheo Jansen is both artist and physicist. He lives in the Netherlands and is fascinated by creating new forms of life. While many folks endeavor to do the same, Mr. Jansen takes a more unique approach – he fabricates his and turns them loose on the beach.

His kinetic sculptures are formed from PVC pipe and ambulate on their own, creatures he calls Strandbeest. These articulated works fuse art and engineering and have become increasingly complex with each new generation.



The sculptures have evolved as Mr. Jansen has adapted their construction to survive weather changes, developed methods for self-propulsion when there is no wind, and tinkered with the design. The multitude of appearances and motion is fascinating, and in some undefined way, somewhat disturbing. There is an organic quality to his work that bridges that sense of connectedness to the landscape. Turned loose in the environment, the Strandbeest naturalize.

When asked about his kinetic constructions, this is what Mr. Jansen had to offer about their purpose, his intent, and their increasing artificial intelligence:

Since 1990 I have been occupied creating new forms of life. Not pollen or seeds but plastic yellow tubes are used as the basic material of this new nature. I make skeletons that are able to walk on the wind, so they don’t have to eat. Over time these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storm and water and eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.

You can visit his personal website HERE and check out his many other projects. There’s also a beautiful 4:33 video HERE that showcases many of his works – turn up the volume to hear the sounds of the Strandbeest. And HERE is another video of when he spoke at TED Talks. Check out Mr. Jansen’s efforts, he’s an interesting man with an unusual hobby.

Watch these video clips: 

Want to check out these ideas more closely?

Here are some links to a book about the Strandbeest, and some do-it-yourself kits created in concert with Theo Jansen and offered through Gakken Japan’s educational learning tools company:

Theo Jansen: The Great Pretender

Gakken Mini Beest

Gakken Mini Rhinoceros

If you really want to delve deeper, here is a link to a one-hour documentary on Theo Jansen, called the Great Pretender:

arrowThe Strandbeest intrigue me. I’m curious to watch them as they navigate their environment, learning to avoid water, stake themselves deep into the sand when storms rise up, and wander intently along the shore. Clearly, there is much to explore in Theo Jansen’s kinetic sculpture. Inspiration carries us to the most unexpected of places. Where does yours take you?

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  1. #1 by Matthew Wright on July 19, 2013 - 8:32 pm

    This guy does some cool work with plenty of lateral concept in it. Walking sculptures – who’d have ever thought? But I think the Netherlands, in general, have some pretty talented artists among them. Not sure if it’s their tradition of art or not. My sister actually lives there, as an artist and wool-crafter, and has some dealings with the community (she’s not Dutch though).

    • #2 by Lesann Berry on July 20, 2013 - 12:18 pm

      I find the kinetic nature of Jansen’s art to be really fascinating. I’ve wondered how long a sculpture has traipsed up and down the beach… it’s an intriguing approach to mixing technology and expression. After reading about the Netherlands and their commitment to alternative energy production, I think there is a national attitude that fosters innovation in a much more positive way than where I live. I’d like to see one of the Strandbeest wandering along the shore – maybe it’s a reason to visit? Does your sister have a website for her art? My grandmother was a spinner.

      • #3 by Matthew Wright on July 20, 2013 - 1:18 pm

        She has two sites ‘ ‘Make a Scene’ for her mural work (links list on my blog, right below the link to your site) and Wool Wench, which is – uses a spinning wheel sent across to Holland from a manufacturer in NZ, custom made.

        • #4 by Lesann Berry on July 21, 2013 - 1:25 pm

          Thanks for the direction, I’ll check out the links!

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