Strandbeests a new species invade Chicago

Strandbeests a new species invade Chicago
Theo Jansen’s wholly distinctive Strandbeests – or “beach creatures” on view at the Chicago Cultural Center

Not since Cows on Parade has Chicago seen such an invasion of lovable beasts. Only, instead of the static cows, the new species of Strandbeests are not only much larger–but they are on the move.

The kinetic sculptures, created and built by Dutch artist Theo Jansen have become a global phenomenon.

The artist on the beach in the Netherlands with his Strandbeests

The artist on the beach in the Netherlands with his Strandbeests

In total, there are 38 of the large creatures most of whom are at exhibitions around the globe including Japan, Europe and in the US. A few remain at “home” which is a beach in the Netherlands.

The Strandbeests, or “beach creatures,” are part of a free exhibition that opened Friday evening at Chicago’s Cultural Center.

Jansen, the artist and creator of what he calls “a new species,” was trained as a physicist and spent 22 years as a journalist before he began his 25 year journey to create, perfect and protect these dinosaur-like sculptures–eight of whom will be calling Chicago home for the next three months.

The amazing “moving,” “breathing” and “walking” sculptures consist of hundreds of parts and can hold up to wind, rain and even snow as they roam their favorite outdoor haunts especially beaches.

Whether Chicagoans will be meeting any of these “beach creatures” at Oak Street or North Avenue beach remains to be seen. However one was sighted on Thursday near the Bean in Millennium Park–to the shock and awe of many–at a promotional event for the Strandbeests exhibition.

Jansen st the Cultural Center exhibition explaining how these creatures are able to move. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Jansen st the Cultural Center exhibition explaining how these creatures are able to move. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Jansen explains how the Strandbeests are able to move. He says that they are deaf and blind but they can feel as they move their nose along the sand to find their way.  He pointed out that their hundreds of legs consist of rods of random length that were generated in the computer and then assessed as to which would work best for the ideal walking curve.

Anatomy of a Strandbeest

Close-up of one of the creatures in the Chicago Cultural Center. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Close-up of one of the creatures in the Chicago Cultural Center. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

1. Color
The Strandbeests start out “the color of cheese,” says Jansen. But over time, the sun bleaches the tubes. The earliest sculptures (now 25 years old) are a shade of bone.

2. Sails
Most Strandbeests have between four and six sails, which power crankshafts that move the legs. In high winds, the sculptures can walk up to six miles an hour.

3. Material

The exhibition shows the many individual parts that go into constructing the "Beests." Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The exhibition shows the many individual parts that go into constructing the “Beests.” Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Designed to move on sand, Jansen’s sculptures are made primarily from hundreds of PVC tubes. He prefers PVC because it is lightweight and inexpensive.

4. Feet
Every Strandbeest is outfitted with “shoes” that allow it to maneuver over various beach terrains. The softer the sand, the bigger the shoes.

5. Legs

The leg system. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The leg system. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

To build the legs, Jansen uses what he calls a “genetic algorithm,” an equation that determines the length and construction of each limb for maximum movement.

6. Size
Most Strandbeests measure about 16 feet long, 6.5 feet wide, and 10 feet high and weigh between 77 and 330 pounds.

The “beests,” will be on the move daily. For a schedule of the times that they will walk visit the Chicago Cultural Center website. There is also a series of related events to go along with the exhibition that runs through May 1 at the Cultural Center. Here’s one with other upcoming events TBA.

Sleepover
March 18 and 19
Kids and their families are invited to a slumber party at the Chicago Cultural Center on Friday, March 18. The Up All Night With The “Beests” Family Overnight begins at 6 p.m. and continues until 8 a.m. on Saturday, March 19. Participants will create, build, design, dance and explore the Strandbeest exhibition. This event is for children ages 6 to 12 only, and all attendees must be accompanied by an adult. Space is limited. Sign-up is February 18 at this link. Guests will be notified on February 19 if they get in.

Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen runs February 6 to May 1 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., 4th Floor, Sidney Yates Gallery. Free admission.

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