Pretty Art Robots

In recognition of International Kinetic Art day,* we bring you this wonderful project by Dutch artist Theo Jansen. Jansen has created the Strandbeests, a series of mobile sculptures that wander along the Dutch coast, apparently under their own volition (wind power, stored in recycled lemonade bottles, actually propels them; a “binary step counter,” functions as a ”simple brain”). They’re beautiful.

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Jansen explains his project thoroughly in a TED Talk, but it still seems magic. For our money that’s a mark of a good invention—you understand it but you’re still wowed by it (We’re looking at you, flying buttresses).

We’re impressed by the simplicity of Jansen’s work—there is no CPU controlling these things. They don’t even use electricity. Our inner geek loves the new Japanese model robot HRP-4C as much as the next guy, but we prefer lo-fi abstraction to a tour of the Uncanny Valley.

Jansen, who comes off as a mad scientist with a hint of a god complex, has been developing (“evolving”) these things for almost twenty years, and his labor is evident in the creatures’ graceful movement. Most are made from PVC, but one particularly striking Strandbeest is made from 3.2 tons of what looks to be Corten steel. It’s so perfectly engineered that a single person can push it around, its many lumbering metal legs attached to an axis that somehow lets a person move forty times his body weight (check it in the TED video, the second link).

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It’s like . . . Calatrava plus Skynet. This is very, very hard to describe and this post is nowhere near as entertaining as watching these things putter around the beach. Please go watch some of this footage and delight in the beauty and craft until the Strandbeests achieve full cognition and enslave us all.

(Thanks to another mad scientist artist, Julia Vallera, who brought this to our attention).

*Since writing this post we have been informed that it’s not technically “International Kinetic Art Day” just because Andy and I both wrote posts about sculptures that move. Please note that banks and the Post Office will be open, and you should have gone to work today. Suggesteddonation regrets the error.