Art and Inspiration Highlight Tools and Materials

Theo Jansen and the Strandbeesten*

*Beach Animals (in Dutch)

Theo Jansen’s Strandbeesten at the Kunstmuseum, Den Haag 2022

A passing thought… the flash of an image in the mind’s eye… a tantalizing idea… Like a seed, this can grow & become something wonderful, when it is welcomed by a receptive mind.

Such a thought took hold in the mind of Theo Jansen in the 1980s. Jansen imagined beasts that could live on the beaches of The Netherlands; creatures big enough to move sand dunes to block high seas. He wrote about it one time in a newspaper column, and that seemed to be the end of that. But a few months later, he went into a hardware store and bought some PVC pipe. Three decades later, dozens of wind-powered PVC creatures have walked the beaches of The Netherlands. And Jansen’s Strandbeesten delight and intrigue people all over the world.

Jansen says he likes the PVC pipe because it’s the color of old Dutch cheese. Also because it’s the color of old bones. He thinks of his beasts as evolving, generation after generation – and then going extinct, leaving their bones behind.

This month, I had the opportunity to see those bones, and the beasts, during a visit to the Kunstmuseum in Den Haag. The artist himself was there, talking with a group of visitors. I thought they were perhaps planning the construction of a new Beast. Jansen says this is how his beasts reproduce – by inspiring people to make more of them.

The beach animals are huge and complex assemblages of pipe and zip-ties and plastic bottles and sails. While it may seem an unusual type of craft, many of Mr. Jansen’s ideas shed light on creativity.

His ideas about control over the creative process, for example. He says that the Strandbeests evolve in their own directions, often without regard for his intentions. He’s called himself their slave, and doesn’t think of himself so much in charge of making them, as assisting them to become whatever it is they’re going to become.

His attitude towards his materials is interesting too. He has said that it doesn’t matter what material you work in; it could be tea bags; the material constrains and directs the work. “The material I work with protests against my idea, it wants something different. My search consists of the directions from the tubes I follow and those directions often turn out to be much better than my idea.”

“Sometimes I think that the Strandbeest exist since the dawn of time and they were just waiting to land in someone’s head and convince him to abandon everything to devote himself to them. And that someone is me.”

Theo Jansen

The Strandbeests remind me of how a small idea can grow and morph. Beginning with Jansen’s idea in the ’80s about protecting The Netherlands from rising seas, thru decades of ‘evolution’ (his term), to a world-wide following of people delighted with his work and expanding on his ideas; even consulting for NASA.

As a youngster, Theo Jansen used to ride his bike beside the canal in front of the Kunstmuseum; he never imagined his work would be on display there. What a great joy it is that he let these Beasts into the world!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply