The strandbeest is in Exeter – Theo Jansen’s wind-powered mechanical animal sculpture to patrol the city streets

As part of this year’s Exeter Summer Festival, a huge wind-powered mechanical animal sculpture will go walkabout in Exeter’s Princesshay between Friday and Sunday July 2 and 4, from 11am to 5pm.

Dutch artist Theo Jansen has created the 10m long mechanical, walking ‘strandbeest’ (meaning beach animal) which is engineered from scrap plastic tubing and water bottles. The sculpture, along with associated exhibition and education project, is managed by Spacex as part of an Arts Council funded Cultural Olympiad project.

This is the first time that one of Theo Jansen’s strandbeest sculptures will be seen on a beach in Britain. The 10m long and 4.5m high creation – named Ventosa Siamesis – takes the form of a twin structure with two creatures working together.

Theo Jansen has taken inspiration from Darwinian evolution and used engineering principles to create sophisticated animal like abilities. Complex articulated locomotion enables the strandbeest to walk, and sensory mechanisms allow it to respond to the environment. For example, if the wind is very strong, the strandbeest hammers its feet into the sand, and if the strandbeest goes too close to the sea, it can detect this and move in the opposite direction.

STRANDBEESTEN_TRAILER from Alexander Schlichter on Vimeo.

The strandbeest is made from recycled plastic conduit for electric cables. It has no electronic elements and captures energy from the wind with wing like sails which power its movement and store energy. The wind-driven sails compress air into reservoirs of recycled plastic bottles and this energy is released via piston mechanisms.

Groups of people, from scientists at the Met Office to toddlers and teenagers have taken part in Spacex’s Two Materials project. Inspired by Theo Jansen’s techniques, using plastic tubes and string, the groups have created their own structures.

The strandbeest project is co-produced by Spacex with the Newcastle arts agency, amino and forms part of Anti-Bodies, a programme of contemporary art projects which explore different attitudes to the body, contrasting the artist’s view with that of the Olympic athlete. Anti-Bodies is coordinated by Relational with support from Arts Council England and has been granted the Inspire mark as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

Tickets have almost sold out for an illustrated talk at 7pm on Friday,  July 2 in the Music Room at Exeter Central Library (For booking information, call Spacex on 01392 213786.) Theo will talk about his work and reveal insights into his new creation made specially for Exeter and Exmouth.

(image: Theo Jansen at work)