Did you always want a pet which you never had to feed or pick up after?
Step 1: Know what a Strandbeest is
A Strandbeest is a wind-powered kinetic sculpture by Dutch artist Theo Jansen. Since 1990, Jansen has been designing different Strandbeesties and letting them loose on the beaches of the Netherlands. The Strandbeest is a mechanical mimesis with PVC pipe instead of bones, plastic tubing instead of veins, with plastic bottles and sails instead of muscles.
Step 2: Research how a Strandbeest works
A Strandbeest is a mechanical imitation of life powered by the wind but how do the components combine to make it function?
The sails donít actually directly power the legs as you might think but instead they squeeze plastic bottles located along the spine of the Strandbeest. The bottles, under pressure, function as a pneumatic system which turns the central crank shaft. The circular motion of the crank shaft transforms into a the walking motion of the legs through how the joints are connected, the way they can pivot and at one point their motionlessness. Through the combination of components and engineering, the Strandbeest is able to roam the beaches of its own volition.
Step 3: Understanding the Strandbeest in 2-dimensions
Understanding the mechanics of a Strandbeest is not so complicated but drawing how the components work together to create fluidity of motion will help in your understanding. Knowing how the parts connect, move and their proportions can not only help you learn about how existing Jansensís strandbeesties but also to help you develop your own versions. Draw how the components of the Strandbeest come together and imagine other ways of powering those components.
Step 4: Experiment with Strandbeest mechanics on a small scale
Moving from 2 dimensions to 3 dimesnions is the next logical step in gaining a comprehensive understanding of how the Strandbeest moves. Realistically you could just build small versions and never build a life size version(which would be much more ecologically responsible but not so impressive).
Here are some links to help you out with your research and model building:
Step 5: Research joints/connections for your Strandbeest
The joints and connections of your Strandbeest can be the difference between a functional and a dysfunctional Strandbeest. For the joints that pivot you will need pieces that fit together snugly but without too much friction; the components should move with almost no effort because as you combine components the force required to move the joints in combination is going to compound. The connection of materials is equally important; if you have strong individual pieces for your Strandbeest but they are not held together your Strandbeest will fall to pieces during transportation or while in use. I would guess that about 85% of a Strandbeest is moving parts so itís crucial that you get the appropriate joints, connections and adhesives for your Strandbeest.
Step 6: Gather materials for your Strandbeest
In thinking about materials for a giant wind-powered kinetic sculpture probably the two most important factors are the strength of materials compared to their weight. You can build a Strandbeest out of steel and it will be very strong but it will take a lot of power to move it or, contrarily, you could build one out of paper but it may not have the strength to hold itself upright. Depending on the size of your finished Strandbeest, different materials will be more or less appropriate. For my Strandbeest, measuring about 2m long x 1.5m tall x 1.5m wide, I used bundles of reeds which were inserted into PVC pipe joints and held apart by cardboard providing a very light but strong components.
Step 7: Assemble the basic Strandbeest components
Like any grand task you should break down what you need to do into manageable components so for building the Strandbeesties I used a factory production model to cut all of the lengths, then to put them together to make the triangles for the legs, then to connect the rest of the lengths to the triangles to form each of the legs. To have the connections hold you will have to have chosen the right mix of components (materials, joints & adhesives).
Step 8: Connect the Strandbeest components
With the basic structures of the Strandbeest together the next step is to join everything in one cohesive form which allows fluidity of movement, strength of form and transference of energy from a source of power to the central crank shaft.
Step 9: Test your Strandbeest
Depending on the size which you've chosen to build your Strandbeest will determine how easy it is to find a suitable location to test your Strandbeest. The Strandbeest I built needed to be lowered off a rooftop terrace and then carried to the beach. If your Strandbeest works itís great and if it doesnít then you will know better how to build the next Strandbeest.
Step 10: Reflect on the consequences of your actions
I fell in love with the Strandbeest in 2004. Through building it I came
to one realization: that it is boring art. Through the process of creation I came to the feel nothing about it in terms of art because it is so simple conceptually while holding an elevated arrogance of purpose. Donít misunderstand me, I still like the project but now I see it for what it is, engineering-porn. Strandbeest has a significant awe-value due to hundreds if not thousands of moving parts all going in different directions, dinosaur like proportions and mystery in the locomotion of such behemothsÖthey are a fireworks show or the Wizard of Oz.
My Strandbeest didnít work, I am sure, partially because the curtains were pulled away and partially because I did not have the right mix of components: The PVC joints, the reeds and the cardboard I used to build the Strandbeest worked well but they did not stick together because I did not have access to the right adhesive. I wanted an expanding polyurethane glue but what I had was not that. Through the transport, the Strandbeest started to fall apart, joints dislocating from each other, and at the beach when one would be put back together then two more would disconnect.
Through this learning process, it seems to me that I have taken on a role similar to many of the other Dutch artists Iíve encountered recently, in imitating that which I am not equipped for. They play as scientists, researchers and engineers but they are not up for the tasks they choose as I was not prepared with the right mix of materials and adhesives to accomplish my own of building a Strandbeest. I am not without guilt when it comes to playing the scientist, the engineer or the researcher but in the future I will be more conscious of using these terms so frivolously and being more honest about the art. Taking sand samples or water samples and doing whatever kind of "citizen-science" is neither good art nor good science but rather is primary school level science-fair projects dressed up using art terms and some aesthetic engagement. In contrast with the other contemporary Dutch artists, at least Theo Jansenís foray into engineering is of a significance on par with the skill of actual engineers instead of work which is over-written and over-talked as science but really amounts to nothing of value.