Independent Study

Dreams, coming true.

I’ll take a little detour from the road of public and politically-engaged art to call attention to something in the area I'm incredibly excited about. As a prepubescent experience-sponge educated by my mother I went to the Peabody Essex Museum, a great art spot in Salem, Massachusetts. I haven’t been there since, but have heard off and on about interesting shows they have going on.

The latest was the museum bringing Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests to New England, and every side of my art nerd is having a fit. As I’m sure Ive mentioned, my alma mater requires every graduate to have completed a self-designed thesis (Independent Study) in their chosen field. Theo Jansen took over an entire chapter of my I.S., where I discussed his art as an interdisciplinary project occupying a really unique sector of art that challenges multiple conventions.

Theo Jansen, creator of Strandbeests, “beach animals”, shows in his writing how connected his art is to the process of evolution. His animals show the ways in which cultural concerns can be pushed to the side while concern for the inner workings of nature overtakes art and life. His Strandbeests blur the line between artist, creator, and scientist, lessening the tensions between these facets of culture as he adopts the media as a way to raise awareness of his art, making it accessible, process and all, to any who find it.

Needless to say, when I discovered that the Strandbeests would be at Crane Beach in Ipswitch, MA, I was incredibly lucky to have two art adventure friends to journey south with. After a three mile walk along a standstill stream of cars we made it to the beach, where volunteers were pushed two small Strandbeests along the shore, where the wind was not strong enough to move them alone. During the walk back someone held a sign out their car window reading “Lower your expectations.”

The Strandbeest "toy" comes in pieces, and assembling it gives great insight to the animal's workings.

I agree that the "Sneak Peak," as they are called, may not have been that exhilarating proportionately to the effort it took to get there. I take heart that the consensus seemed to be in execution of the event, not as a reflection of the project itself. The smaller beests that they chose were probably the most practical for transportation and ability to move, but didn’t command the same awe as those seen in the videos. Most people coming to see the beests wanted to see the plastic giants, and few people want to look on the bright side after an hour in stop-and-go traffic.

Ultimately I was thrilled that so many people showed up to see the Strandbeests. They are fascinating feats of engineering (to me, at least), and the diversity of comprehension was apparent. With MIT connected to the happenings, some people understood the mechanics of the Strandbeests completely. Others (me) had only a rudimentary understanding, while many people simply saw the video and wanted to see them in the flesh, not having considered the Strandbeests much past cool works of mechanics/art. Everyone shared different tidbits of knowledge with each other, and even if I was disappointed by the beests themselves, the crowd was better than I could have imagined.

I can’t wait to see Jansen talk at MIT on September 10th, and I’m sure I’ll have another post after that.