Creatures like dinosaurs and buffalo have long since been extinct, which is a disappointment to anyone who would have liked to walk alongside them. But for Dutch artist Theo Jansen, it’s given him an opportunity to design a beast of his own.
The Strandbeest has made its way to the Chicago Cultural Center in its first major American exhibition tour. Jansen’s designs blur the lines between art, engineering, science and performance. His Strandbeests are made entirely from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and are able to move around and react to the environment on which they’re placed.
Jansen has opted for legs for the Strandbeest instead of wheels, as he believes it allows for more fluid movement. The creatures generate their movement using wind power, but on more calm days, they’re able to store air pressure and use it to self-propel themselves.
Jansen’s more sophisticated creations can actually detect when they’ve entered water, and will pivot and walk away from it. One model is even able to sense a storm coming and brace itself, anchoring its legs to the earth.
At the Chicago Cultural Center, artist drawings, videos, daily demonstrations of the creatures’ movements, and a display of retired “fossils” accompany the Strandbeest sculptures. Guests can also view photography by Lena Herzog, who documented the Strandbeests’ evolution for more than seven years. The creatures have their own handlers, who provide daily demonstrations of their animation and breath.
It may not be quite what roamed the earth hundreds of millions of years ago, but if Jansen has his way, we’ll be seeing Strandbeests in herds on beaches, living their own unique lives. Follow the Strandbeest tour here and watch the video below for a glimpse of these incredible creatures in action.