Did You See This?

Mechanical Creatures Take Massachusetts

The “Strandbeests” cross the Atlantic.

This family of amazing mechanical creatures, dubbed ”Strandbeests,” are the work of artist Theo Jansen. Since Sept. 19, they’ve been featured in an exhibit at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts. Curator Trevor Smith spoke to WBUR in Boston about the beasties, the exhibit, and Jansen.

According to Smith, Jansen lives on the northwestern coast of the Netherlands, and he started out as a landscape painter. Who studied physics. His first foray into mechanics was the working UFO he built in 1980, which managed to scare the tulips out of the people—and police—of the Dutch town of Delft. The stunned reaction thrilled Jansen, and it got him thinking that maybe there were better ways to impact the world than painting.

When he noticed nearby tides were rising, Jansen began to imagine wind-powered creatures that could pick up sand and carry it over to inland dunes to protect the shore against rising seas. Thinking he could build his monster fleet in a year, Jansen got to work on the Strandbeests. His wondrous beasties soon turned into an obsession, evolving into multi-year rumination on what makes something alive.

As a Strandbeest lopes down a beach or wanders the streets of Boston, it really does conjure an indescribable kind of life, much like artist Shaun Tan’s fantastic objects.

The Strandbeest exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum runs through Jan. 3, 2016, at which point the lovable monsters will be dismantled and shipped off to the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.