Miami - Interviews

The Age of Strandbeests: an Interview with Theo Jansen

5 years ago

From simple structures to complex bodies that respond to environmental conditions, in twenty-five years Theo Jansen has been constantly developing his ‘creatures’ as new life-forms, the Strandbeests. They have been ‘living’ on a beach in The Netherlands and this year Audemars Piguet brought them to walk on another beach, in Miami, during Art Basel Miami Beach. We were there to know more about Theo Jansen life-long project.

Mara Sartore I can feel Strandbeests is a very personal project and you have a deep and strong relationship with these works. I imagine journalists have been asking to you all type of questions in the last twenty years. Is there anything you wonder why nobody ask and you would like to tell about?

Theo Jansen That’s a good question. Nobody asked why I do this on that specific beach. Why not in a desert or wherever. And the answer is that this project is not only about life in general, it’s about my private life.

I was born on a beach (Scheveningen, The Netherlands, ed.), I used to walk a lot there, part of my acquaintance with life happened on that beach. That’s why I don’t use other places. It’s something like faithfullness to where I was born. When I was twenty years old I moved to Delft, I studied physics there, I lived there for forty years until to be back to Scheveningen, where I live now, in a house on that beach.

MS You build ‘your creatures’ and then free them on the beach. How long do they live out there?

TJ They are out all summer. In the fall, I declare the animal extinct and dismantle in the barnyard, because during the winter the wind is too harsh. During springtime I build a new one. So they live about six months.

MS It’s kind of a natural cycle.

TJ It is. And also a chronologic order. Each one has a number and a name. Their material (plastic or wood) tell about time periods. During the years, every time at the end of the evolution, I threw some pieces on the top of the cabin where I work. After a while there was a pile of fossils, that some volunteers cleaned and took to exhibit. You can see the history of Strandbeests‘ evolution by looking at the fossils.

MS I heard you saying “the Age of Strandbeests is coming”. How do you see the interaction of your creatures with the people, with the world outside?

TJ Well, also this morning on the beach, looking at the faces of the people, I can see they join me in my dream and they seem to understand what is going on in my brain. That’s very touching and it stimulates me very much because they seem happy and that’s a big task on my shoulder. It was not in my plans but when I saw people smiling, I just thought I should keep working on that. There was a time I thought I had to protect Strandbeests against people, because they are really vulnerable and someone could harm them. I thought to use poison or thorns. It turned they don’t need that at all: in 25 years they have never been harmed and somehow they use their charm to defend themselves. Charm is the best weapon.

MS And how does the Strandbeests project relate with Audemars Piguet?

TJ In the sixteen century, when they were making the first watches, it was also a sort of artificial life. There was a tick, an heartbeat, and they came to life, like my works. The connection is in the selection of simple materials, the passion for mechanical work, for very sophisticated moving things and a certain allergy for electronics: I do not use electronic sensors and of course, Audemars Piguet does not make electronic watches.

Mara Sartore

  • Animaris Turgentia Vela on the beach in Miami Animaris Turgentia Vela on the beach in Miami
  • Animaris Turgentia Vela on the beach in Miami Animaris Turgentia Vela on the beach in Miami