Beasts of the Sand, Strandbeest in Singapore

Written by on July 8, 2018

Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests have arrived in Singapore, as the Wind Walkers exhibition at The ArtsScience Museum, and from the now till 30 September 2018, members of public will be able see these magnificent creatures up close.

One of the largest Strandbeests on exhibit, Animarus Umerus Segundus.

The Strandbeests, which means “Beach animals” in Dutch, are here for the first time, in South-East Asia. The Strandbeests are made from items found in everyday life, such as zip-ties and plastic bottles, while the main frames of the machines are made from plastic piping. The exhibit contains more than 30 machines, and leaves plenty for the guests to interact with. The ArtsScience Museum has rebuilt the machines and is giving the chance of a lifetime to interact with them.

While some machines are operated by humans, with handle bars to push and pull, some are powered by wind. This is recreated indoors at the exhibit by pressurised air. Guests will be able to experiment with at least two Strandbeests, one that crawls and another that walks. Other Strandbeests in the exhibition will also be re-animated at specific showtimes throughout the day.

Theo Jansen with the famous man-powered machine, Animus Ordis

During a press conference, Jansen commented on how the machines were like animals, evolving during the building process and coming to life when they worked. They then became “extinct” when they were disassembled, and when they were recreated in exhibits, they had “life breathed back into them.”

Radio Heatwave asked how Jansen was able to overcome the barrier between science and art, to which he responded that he never really intended to. The machines were first created as solutions to rising sea levels, as they would push sand into piles on the beach, creating sand walls. However, Jansen saw the beauty in the machines that moved themselves, propelled by nothing but wind. Enamoured, he strayed away from functionality, and instead veered towards art, creating more animalistic versions of his machines.

Theo Jansen with tools required to make the parts of the Strandbeests.

The animals are traditionally named in Latin, with scientific sounding names, and are categorised by “periods”, much like dinosaurs. These periods range in a wide variety, with names like “Caterpillar Period” and “Less-Hot Period”, and even the “Period of Self-Destruction”.

These animalistic machines reflect real life, with the stand out example being Animaris Proboscis, animals with long noses, imitated the mating rituals of animals, waving frantically at each other. The evolution of animals can be seen through the different Strandbeests, starting from just walking and mobility and eventually evolving into concepts such as mating with each other.

The exhibit will also feature artifacts from the history of the Strandbeests, for example the early prototypes and parts from the early Strandbeests. An early Atari computer, where Jansen first discovered his holy 13 numbers for his Strandbeests is also on display, even earlier sketches of the design of Strandbeests, and news articles from his previous endeavours, such as when Jansen flew a UFO over the town of Delft, scaring the local population.

Singapore- based artist, Isabelle Desjeaux also has her commissioned exhibition, Backyard Lab, on display, drawing inspiration from Jansen’s exploration of using everyday materials and trial and error. A stand out in this exhibit is a hand-cranked tickling machine, which wiggles a tickling feather in a seemingly random movement.

Another interesting addition to the exhibit is a kid’s building station, where materials are provided for children to make their very own small Strandbeest, called Minibeests including a crab that moves realistically using leg movements from the full-sized Strandbeests. The same crab is hidden throughout the exhibit, a fun Easter-egg hunt for the children during the slower parts of the exhibit. A race against Minibeests will be held on the 28th of July to find out who can make the fastest moving Minibeest.

Exhibition timings for the event include guided tours in both English and Mandarin on weekends until the end of June.

Also available are playmaking sessions on the 6th, 13th and 20th of July, where participants will learn simple engineering and experiment with their own designs.

For more information, head to

Thank you to Marina Baysands for providing Radio Heatwave with the chance to check out Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests at the Wind Walkers exhibition!

Written by: Ho Rong Xuan
Edited by: Tan Yin Yun
Pictures by: Nawfal Iqmal

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