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.

you got review’d: die roboter kommen!

Suggested Donation’s less-employed half spent the month of August in Berlin, where every German earnestly implored, “oh but you must visit the Jewish Museum.” Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to spend an afternoon looking at family pictures of ghosts of holocausts past.

Instead, my precious Cultural Hours were spent at the Museum of Communication (Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation), a public museum bearing artifacts and interactive displays of the modern history of communications technology. The Museum is run by Deutsch Post, that is, the Post Office–and it’s housed in an anachronistically Wilhelmine building just a few blocks west of Checkpoint Charlie. Visitors entering the Museum’s palatial lobby are greeted by three whirring Jetsons-esque robots. They beep and click and wheel around, following a large exercise ball–and delighted children–around the marble floor. These robots are permanent fixtures in the space, but the real goods were upstairs–in a temporary exhibition called ‘Die Roboter Kommen!’ (The Robots are Coming!)

The exhibition gives way to a series of eerily lit rooms with a fascinating–I dare say awesome–collection of larger than life robots, supplemented with robot videos, graphic art, and other cultural kitsch. There are robots both real and imagined–medical surgery bots and giants robotic spiders (seemingly military) lead to the Metropolis deity and the cylon from Bjork’s All is Full of Love video. I can’t speak much to the label copy (although the font could have been a little bigger), but most impressive (other than the artifacts themselves) was the dynamic transformation of the space by a cool blue black-light which swathed the entire exhibit in a futuristic glow. [slideshow]

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robot crotch shots: VHS or BETA?