Strandbeests are coming to Boston! No, that’s not a warning of an apocalyptic beach monster, though the name does mean “beach animal” in Dutch. Strandbeests are wind-powered, centipede-like robots that are coming to Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum on September 19th, for their first major American exhibition, “Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen.”
“It gets a gust of wind and it kind of wobbles. Then when it starts to move, your heart goes out to it,” Trevor Smith, the exhibition’s curator, told Boston radio station WBUR.
WBUR’s Greg Cook describes the structures as alien, “but also like something cobbled together by someone who grew up in lashed-together stilt houses and aboard old sailing ships.”
The Strandbeests were an Internet sensation before traveling to Boston.
“I first encountered ‘Strandbeests’ the way a lot of people did,” Smith says. “Someone suggested I check out a website. People are suggesting I check out things all the time. It’s much rarer that it’s something I hadn’t seen before. … When you see those videos, you feel it in your body. You kind of empathize with these creatures.”
Noting rising sea levels as far back as 1990, artist Jansen originally imagined the Strandbeests as environmental crusaders. He builds them out of recycled plastic. Per WBUR:
“He sort of imagined there was some sort of creature that would pick up the sand and place it on the upper part of the dunes to protect against the rising seas,” Smith says. This response was part of the perpetual Dutch question of how to reclaim land from the sea and then how to defend it from being taken back by the waters. “It’s more evocative of something we’re all thinking about now. This Dutch obsession has kind of become a global obsession.”
If you’re in the Boston area, you can see these creatures for yourself, including at Boston’s City Hall Plaza and on area beaches. Check out the museum’s schedule here.
Jenn Stanley is a freelance journalist, essayist and independent producer living in Chicago. She has an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.