05 July 2010


Videos of Theo Jansen's fantastical Strandbeests (beach beasts) born at his Windlab in Holland have been crawling the Internet for a while. But this is the first time I've seen an HD film, beautifully shot, and with a haunting score made more interesting by the fact that his Animaris Umerus largely fails to walk... Animaris Humoris?

Here's his description of how a similar species works:
"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. This is done using a variety of bicycle pump, needless to say of plastic tubing. Several of these little pumps are driven by wings up at the front of the animal that flap in the breeze. It takes a few hours, but then the bottles are full. They contain a supply of potential wind. Take off the cap and the wind will emerge from the bottle at high speed. The trick is to get that untamed wind under control and use it to move the animal. For this, muscles are required. Beach animals have pushing muscles which get longer when told to do so. These consist of a tube containing another that is able to move in and out. There is a rubber ring on the end of the inner tube so that this acts as a piston. When the air runs from the bottles through a small pipe in the tube it pushes the piston outwards and the muscle lengthens. The beach animal's muscle can best be likened to a bone that gets longer. Muscles can open taps to activate other muscles that open other taps, and so on. This creates control centres that can be compared to brains."

Animaris Percipiere.

"Jansen's creatures begin to take shape as a simulation inside a computer, in the shape of artificial life organisms which compete among themselves to be the quickest. Jansen studies the winning creatures and reconstructs them three-dimensionally with light and flexible tubes, nylon thread and adhesive tape. Those moving around more efficiently will donate their "DNA" (length and disposition of the tubes forming their movable parts) to the following Strandbeest generations. Through this process of hybridization and Darwinian evolution, creatures become more and more capable of living in their environment, and can even take decisions to guarantee their survival. The Animaris Sabulosa, for instance, buries its nose in the sand to anchor itself when detecting the wind is too strong to be still standing."
According to Jansen, he usually has only one or two living species at a time. The finished ones he declares extinct and consigns to the boneyard next to the Windlab, where they fossilize, becoming more bonelike over time. 

The boneyard.

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