You’ve probably seen Theo Jansen’s otherwordly structures somewhere before – the wind-powered Strandbeests (Dutch for beach animals) are often pictured on the beach or green pastures ambulating in an odd movement that’s somewhat akin to a caterpillar’s.

The veteran Dutch artist will be staging Wind Walkers: Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests – his first ever South-East Asian exhibition – at ArtScience Museum next month (June 23 – September 30) where visitors can get up close to 13 of these strange beasts, which will range from works made in recent years to older models. Jansen created the first Strandbeest model out of PVC way back in 1990, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’ve evolved over the years.

Theo Jansen to show at the ArtScience Museum Singapore

While earlier models could perform basic locomotion (i.e walk, based on “a system of triangles and connecting links which convert the rotation of an axle into a stepping motion of six or more legs”, according to Wikipedia), later models can reportedly react to their environment to a certain degree. Examples include pre-emptively storing air pressure so that the Strandbeests can move even without the wind (presumably we’ll be able to see that in action here in Singapore), avoiding bodies of water and even anchor itself to the earth in the event of a storm.

theo jansen singapore - ArtScience Museum

The largest model in this motley crew weighs in at 240kg and measures at least 10 metres in body length, so we’re quite curious as to how they will be exhibited – since visitors are supposed to be able to walk with the structures and witness them in motion – that is after all the highlight and purpose of these Strandbeests.

For those who are fans of the legendary Japanese animation firm Studio Ghibli, the Strandbeests might also be reminiscent of the gigantic, trilobite-like insects Ohmu that appeared in one of the studio’s earliest films, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984).

Like many Studio Ghibli works, one of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’s primary themes focuses on environmental destruction and protagonists who try to fight against it. Similarly, Jansen’s Strandbeests were originally conceived to raise awareness of the flooding dangers of rising sea levels – caused by climate change – itself a result of irresponsible human activity (read: we’re all guilty).

So yes, head down to the ArtScience Museum next month for jaw-dropping art combined with a more-than-worthy cause. As Jansen himself puts it, “the walls between art and engineering exist only in
our minds”.

Wind Walkers: Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests

June 23 – September 30

ArtScience Museum

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