Strandbeests

“What is Art?”

That’s the age-old question that came to me when viewing Theo Jansen’s unique creations at the Peabody Essex Museum recently.

Jansen is a Dutchman who’s spent 25 years working with PVC conduit—material usually used by electricians—to create increasingly complex machines that “walk,” either with or without human assistance.

Because they walk, they seem a bit alive (as opposed to things on wheels.)

And because the best place for them to walk is the beach, they’re called Strandbeests, which in English translates to beach beasts, or beach animals.

You can see more here.

I had the opportunity to push a smaller Strandbeest back and forth across a carpeted floor inside the Peabody Essex Museum, but the video isn’t good enough to share. Here’s a detail.

strandbeestsJansen talks about the Strandbeests evolving over time, but it’s really him who’s done all the work and made all the improvements, and while he would like the animals to keep evolving at the hands of others, the odds are that they’re at (or near) the peak of their evolution now.

Jansen is 67 years old, and having his moment of fame among the U.S. art world, but after this what?

When Jansen is gone will his creatures “survive?”

And—is it art?

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