The Friday Fillip: Lifemaker

Two drawings from crazymen… the first of a flying machine by artist Da Vinci, the second of a strandbeest by artist Theo Jansen.

So far as I know, Da Vinci never gave his drawings corporeal form. Jansen, however, turns his into beach animals constructed of of PVC piping and plastic bottles. He’s been at it for over twenty years and talks of this obsession as creating life forms, a race of creatures he hopes will survive him and roam the sands of Netherlands for a long time. Crazy, right?

At first impression — see the video below — you have to give him credit for causing delight. These improbably, shambling stick collections and their fly wings should make you smile, if not chuckle. There’s something in us that loves a rube goldberg, a heath robinson, especially one that moves like a pair of mating Calder mobiles. Here’s the short video from a BBC program:

When you look more closely into what he’s doing, you’ll find, I think, that he’s made some pretty impressive developments that take you deeper than delight. The place to do this plumbing is his website, where you’ll learn about the way his animals store up wind energy as compressed air in plastic bottles — so that if the wind dies as the tide is coming in, they’ve got enough power to scuttle back to the dunes. And about the way his beasts feel before themselves to test whether they’re about to walk into the ocean, reversing course if that’s the case. And about the simple binary computer that lets the beast locate itself in the space between the dunes and the sea.

If you are minded to follow him into his obsession, you might do best to look at the video of his TED talk which he’s posted on his site. Then it’s up to you. Roam through the many short videos he’s made. And then, for a real kick, look at the YouTube video of his Animaris Rhinoceros: this baby weighs in at two tons and stands nearly 15 feet tall… Crazy.


  1. Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

    Theo Jansen is a genius. Da Vinci goes without saying. Thanks for brightening this Friday morning, Simon.