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Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen at the PEM

SALEM – The Peabody Essex Museum will host the first U.S. exhibition tour of Theo Jansen’s famed Strandbeests “beach animals” beginning on September 19, 2015. Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen celebrates these wholly unique kinetic creations that blur the lines between art, science and storytelling, running at the museum through January 3, 2016. The exhibition will continue to the Chicago Cultural Center and San Francisco’s Exploratorium in 2016.

Working along the Dutch seacoast, Jansen has spent the last 25 years developing and evolving his Strandbeests, which today have become a global phenomena. Their inherently interdisciplinary nature attracts enthusiasts from a broad array of disciplines: from engineers, biologists and philosophers, to environmentalists, futurists and makers.

ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES

Theo Jansen, Sheveningen beach, The Netherlands (2011). Coutesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis

Theo Jansen, Sheveningen beach, The Netherlands (2011). Coutesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis

As the wind rises on Scheveningen Beach in the Netherlands, Jansen’s Strandbeests spring to life. Pistons, crankshafts and complex leg systems — all rendered from humble PVC tubing and zip ties — begin their symphonic movement across the seaside expanse. Drawn to the hauntingly elegant locomotion, crowds gather to watch Jansen tend his Strandbeests and share in his wonder as the creatures animate with every breath of wind.

With a singular focus and sense of play, Jansen has developed his Strandbeests from rudimentary structures into intricate, autonomous creatures that can respond to environmental changes by storing wind power, anchoring against oncoming storms and tacking away from the water’s edge. Originally inspired by the threat of rising sea levels, Jansen imagined a mechanical creature that could pile sand back up on the dunes. As time went on, Jansen became more fascinated with exploring ideas around the origins of life. 

An annual rhythm structures the Strandbeests’ life cycle. Innovations are imagined and explored in the studio in winter, then tested and adapted on the beach in summer. Each new species of Strandbeest boasts new tactics and adaptations for their seaside survival. By fall, the creatures have outlived their evolutionary use and become part of Jansen’s fossil record. Like evolution itself, this process is ruthless, searching and unending.

“Normally evolution has millions of years to take place but I may only have another 20 years to work,” said Jansen. “I am always dreaming about the future of the Strandbeests. By the time I leave the planet, I want to leave a new species for you.” 

At the heart of Jansen’s hand-built creatures’ uncanny motion is a leg system constructed of 11 lengths of PVC (Jansen’s “artistic protein”). At the start of the evolutionary process, Jansen wrote a genetic algorithm to help determine the most efficient form of locomotion possible. An Atari home computer sifted through the millions of possible ratios of PVC lengths to arrive at his “holy numbers.” Recently, to ensure the Strandbeests’ continued reproduction, Jansen released these numbers, propelling artists, makers and thinkers all over the world to aid with the evolution of this uniquely open-source species. 

Working in the creative bridge between disciplines, Jansen’s renaissance imagination has brought into being a mesmerizing new life-form,” said Trevor Smith, PEM’s Curator of the Present Tense. “The Strandbeests’ fragile, skeletal appearance elicits our instant empathy while their complex movement provides a profound sense of wonder and delight. Jansen’s creative ambition is not to produce works for the art market, but rather to captivate the world’s creative imagination with a persistent, viral fervor.”

Theo Jansen (2011), Scheveningen beach, The Netherlands. Photo by Lena Herzog.

Theo Jansen (2011), Scheveningen beach, The Netherlands. Photo by Lena Herzog.

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Where? The Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex Street, Salem, MA

When? Exhibition runs September 19, 2015, through January 3, 2016

Cost? Admission varies with adults for $18, seniors for $15, and students for $10. Members, youth 17 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang.

For more information about the Peabody Essex Museum, visit www.pem.org. Visit their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SoundCloud accounts for announcements, updates, photos and more.

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All Rights Reserved. Do not copy, edit, or reproduce any images without expressed, written permission from the attributed copyright owners of each individual work. 

Animaris Percipiere (2005). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis

Animaris Percipiere (2005). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis

Animaris Percipiere Rectus (2005). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis

Animaris Percipiere Rectus (2005). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis

Theo Jansen, Sheveningen beach, The Netherlands (2011). Coutesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis

Theo Jansen, Sheveningen beach, The Netherlands (2011). Coutesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis

Animaris Umerus, Scheveningen beach, The Netherlands (2009). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis

Animaris Umerus, Scheveningen beach, The Netherlands (2009). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis

Animaris Apodiacula (2013). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Uros Kim

Animaris Apodiacula (2013). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Uros Kim

Theo Jansen (2011), Scheveningen beach, The Netherlands. Photo by Lena Herzog.

Theo Jansen (2011), Scheveningen beach, The Netherlands. Photo by Lena Herzog.

Theo Jansen (2010), Scheveningen beach, The Netherlands. Photo by Lena Herzog.

Theo Jansen (2010), Scheveningen beach, The Netherlands. Photo by Lena Herzog.

Theo Jansen & Animaris Siamesis (2009), Scheveningen beach, The Netherlands . Photo by Lena Herzog.

Theo Jansen & Animaris Siamesis (2009), Scheveningen beach, The Netherlands . Photo by Lena Herzog.

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Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen by Lena Herzog (TASCHEN, 2015) is brimming with fold-out pages and informative, expressive notes on Jansen’s process and the evolution of these mysterious works. This 328-page publication features essays by Trevor Smith and Lawrence Weschler. Available in the PEM Shop or online at www.pemshop.com.

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Mondriaan Fund provided generous support for Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen. This exhibition is supported as part of the Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation provided generous support. Strandbeest is also made possible in part by supporters of PEM’s Present Tense Initiative: Mr. Alfred D. Chandler III and The Reverend Susan Esco Chandler, and Fay Chandler. The East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum also provided support.

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THEO JANSEN: The artist first came to prominence in 1980 when he flew a “UFO” across the skies of Delft, Holland. For the past 20 years Jansen has been creating and exhibiting his dramatic, kinetic Strandbeests. He has appeared on multiple TED Talks, been the subject of a New Yorker profile and shown his work in Asia, Europe and now the United States.

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LENA HERZOG: Lena Herzog is a Russian-American photographer. Her work has been featured and reviewed in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Paris Review, Harper’s Magazine and Cabinet Magazine. She is the author of several books of photography and her work has been internationally exhibited.

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PEM LogoThe Peabody Essex Museum is one of the oldest and fastest growing museums in North America. At its heart is a mission to transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections and the vital importance of creative expression. Founded in 1799, the museum’s collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time — including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, as well as Native American, Oceanic and African art.

PEM’s campus affords a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities, performance spaces and historic properties, including Yin Yu Tang: A Chinese House, a 200-year-old house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10AM to 5PM and the third Thursday of every month until 9 pm. Closed Mondays (except holidays), Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission varies with adults for $18, seniors for $15, and students for $10. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang is $5. Members, youth 17 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang.

For more information about the Peabody Essex Museum, visit www.pem.org. Visit their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SoundCloud accounts for announcements, updates, photos and more.

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