Watch: The Eerie Walking Sculptures of Theo Jansen

There’s a new life form on Holland’s beaches.  
There’s a new life form on Holland’s beaches, and they live off the wind. GIF: Strandbeest Webshop/YouTube
There’s a new life form on Holland’s beaches, and they live off the wind. GIF: Strandbeest Webshop/YouTube

Dutch artist Theo Jansen has spent over two decades introducing a new creature to Holland’s landscape. Like any other species, they are born, they evolve and they die, eventually turning to fossils. Except that his animals aren’t made of flesh, blood and bone, but PVC tubes, polymer sails and occasionally, plastic bottles. Jansen’s many-legged beasts are kinetic sculptures that quietly and eerily lumber across beaches propelled only by the wind. He calls them “Strandbeests”, the Dutch equivalent of “beach animals”.

The first Strandbeest was born in 1990. Concerned about the threat that rising sea levels posed to Dutch shores, Jansen proposed building wind-propelled machines that could toss sand back inland and fortify the dunes against the sea. The project to create these prototypes was only meant to last a year, but Jansen never stopped. See his beasts in action below (it gets interesting around 20 seconds in).

Jansen used to be a landscape painter until 1980, when he created a spaceship-shaped plastic installation that he pumped with wind and set off over Delft, where he lived at the time. It created a public sensation, and whetted his appetite for breathing life into the inanimate. Today, his creatures can stand and walk—even run with the help of wings.

Jansen begins work on a new beast every October, lets it out on the beach in May until autumn, when he retires it on an exhibition tour. The creatures make their test runs on the beaches of Scheveningen, where he grew up and now lives, but travel a fair amount later. They have been showcased in Europe, U.S.A., Australia, and Japan, to audiences who wonder at the curiously alive assortment of plastic tubes.

The Strandbeest have come a long way from their ancestors, but Jansen is far from done with them. He dreams of making his creatures capable of navigating the world on their own, so he can leave them to lead their own lives on the seaside dunes of Holland. Listen to the artist speak about his works in the video below.

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    Amrita Lall is a Web Intern at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves people-watching, reading books, and all the dogs in the world. She strongly believes that the best stories are right here, in our everyday lives.

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