Evolution through wind and PVC: Theo Jansen at RISD

Theo Jansen demonstrates his Strandbeests' "water feelers," which respond to moisture by rapidly firing leg pistons.

Theo Jansen demonstrates his Strandbeests’ “water feelers,” which respond to moisture by rapidly firing leg pistons to move in the opposite direction.

Theo Jansen, a Dutch polymath engineer-artist extraordinaire and the father of kinetic, wind-powered “Strandbeests,” came to RISD Friday night to deliver a lecture to a packed auditorium Although not a household name, Jansen is somewhat of a rock star at RISD.

His talk was presented by RISD/Brown STEAM, a group dedicated to promoting cross-disciplinary work between STEM fields and the arts. They demonstrated a five-foot tall cardboard Strandbeest of their own. Collaborative partners included RISD Government Relations and the RISD Programming Board.

Jansen is known for merging physics, engineering, biology, and art in large PVC kinetic animals that walk down the beaches in Holland on their own accord. These beasts move their legs with pneumatic PVC cylinders powered by compressed captured air. They have a purely mechanical nervous system that is able to respond to its environment by changing direction once it detects water or shifty terrain, by anchoring itself into the ground when it senses a storm coming, or by sending smaller “scouts” in front to test the surroundings.

In the talk, Jansen ruminated on the evolution of his career, imagination, and the beasts themselves.

Here are some of the most resonant thoughts Jansen shared Friday night, after the jump.

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A Cool Thing You Shouldn’t Miss: ‘Strandbeest’ workshops for Theo Jansen’s upcoming visit

Theo Jansen, Dutch artist and all around badass, is coming to College Hill this month. Merging art and engineering, Jansen is known for building large, kinetic mechanical animals out of PVC—”Strandbeests,” as he calls them. Jansen’s Strandbeests walk down beaches in Holland on their own accord, with spindly legs that are powered by wing-like sails.

Some of his creatures, such as the Animaris Percipiere, are able to capture and store air pressure in plastic bottles to continue to move without wind. Without any electronic components, the Strandbeests can navigate between soft and hard sand, and some can even detect and change directions if they encounter water or can anchor themselves in the ground if they sense a storm is coming.  Using recycled bottles, pumps, and valves, Jansen is able to equip the beasts with a muscular and neural system of sorts. Jansen is coming to Brown and RISD this month to talk about his Strandbeests, delivering a speech Friday, November 21st in the RISD Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. Before his talk, you can create your own version of a Strandbeest. Continue Reading