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Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest at NTSEC

Submitted by on December 6, 2011 – 4:05 pm 2 Comments


When I went to the Silk Road exhibit the other day, I noticed that the NTSEC (National Taiwan Science Education Center) was also hosting an exhibit by Theo Jansen, the Dutch artist and kinetic sculptor. Theo Jansen constructs what he calls Strandbeest. These are large constructions made out of bamboo, tubing, and plastic, which are designed to walk on their own using wind power.

Theo Jansen Exhibit Brochure

It’s a lot of fun to see them in action, and you can see them on YouTube and on the official Strandbeest website. It’s a lot less fun to see them sitting stationary in a room, but it was still kind of interesting. Tickets are on the pricey side at NT$220 (plus NT$100 for the audio guide). There is also next to no information in English at the exhibit. Unlike the Silk Road exhibit, which has both Chinese and English signs, the Theo Jansen exhibit is all in Chinese. There are many guides there, however, and they would be more than glad to show you around and tell you everything you need to know in English. I got the impression these guides were volunteers, but I can’t be sure about that.

Hands-on Strandbeest

There were perhaps 15 full-size Strandbeest on display, as well as many smaller exhibits demonstrating the exact mechanics of how the Strandbeest move and walk. There were two installations where you could mechanically turn a handle and set some of the example legs in motion. I don’t know if the stiffness of these samples is any indication of how hard it is for the Strandbeest to walk, but if so, then it’s no surprise that we don’t see these creatures wandering freely all over the world on their own just yet. In the videos I’ve seen, Theo Jansen has to constantly monitor and adjust his creations to set them in motion and keep them in motion.

Strandbeest Two

Some of the Strandbeest there were clearly old warriors from the beaches of Holland. They looked old and weather-beaten, as if Jansen had put them through their paces many times and had now given them an honorable retirement in the travelling exhibit. There was a video monitor in front of most of the exhibits, but I was disappointed at what they showed. I saw very little of the Strandbeest walking about. You can see much better footage on the website and on YouTube.

Strandbeest Three

Several times a day, there is some kind of show inside a temporary theater. Unfortunately, I was there between shows and didn’t have enough time to wait around for the next one. I think if you spring for the relatively hefty entrance fee to see this exhibit, you should try to take in the show. It will at least give you a bit more value for your money. Without that show, to be honest, I don’t think it was really worth it. One can get a good appreciation of the Strandbeest (maybe even a better one) just from watching the videos online.

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  • Treva says:

    I really love watching the Strandbeests in motion. They’re hypnotic. And it’s interesting that you found them to be very stiff. In the videos, they look so graceful, even the huge elephant one that looks to be made from cardboard. Then again, in all of the videos there is a VERY stiff breeze, which might go a long way to explain their elegant glide across the sand. Maybe if you got everyone in the room to fan their hands at it really fast… 🙂

    • Doug Nienhuis says:

      I agree: they look amazing in the videos. I wish there had been more video footage of them at this exhibit. There was some, but not nearly enough. I think my disappointment in the exhibit came from the strong contrast between my memory of how fluid the Strandbeest were in the videos and how they looked just sitting there all lit up with blue lights. I wanted them to move. I’m guessing that there was a lot more video and maybe even some kind of a demonstration in the show. Too bad I missed it.

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