Theo Jansen is a Dutch artist and kinetic sculptor. He builds large works which resemble skeletons of animals that are able to walk using the wind on the beaches of the Netherlands. His animated works are a fusion of art and engineering; in a car company (BMW) television commercial Jansen says: “The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds.” He strives at equipping his creations with their own intelligence to manage avoiding obstacles, by changing their course when one is detected, such as the sea itself.
Theo Jansen has been creating wind-walking examples of artificial life since 1990. What was at first a rudimentary breed has slowly evolved into a generation of machines that are able to react to their environment: “over time, these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storms and water and eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.”
Constructed as intricate assemblages of piping, wood, and wing-like sails, Jansen’s creatures are constantly evolving and have become excellently adapted to their sandy beach environment. The creatures sport legs, which “prove to be more efficient on sand than wheels…they don’t need to touch every inch of the ground along the way, as a wheel has to”.
The creatures are also able to store air pressure and use it to drive them in the absence of wind: “Self-propelling beach animals like Animaris Percipiere have a stomach. This consists of recycled plastic bottles containing air that can be pumped up to a high pressure by the wind.” Theo’s more sophisticated creations are able to detect once they have entered the water and walk away from it, and one species will even anchor itself to the earth if it senses a storm approaching.