The great pretender

Theo Jansen takes evolution into his own hands, with PVC and a little wind

Jonathan Scheff
Nov 28, 2007
A BMW advertisement calls Theo Jansen a kinetic sculptor, but Jansen considers his pieces to be more than inorganic objects. He refers to his beach-walking creatures -- created out of a type of yellow PVC tubing ubiquitous in the Netherlands -- not in the language of materials and artistic process but in the biological nomenclature of cellular processes and evolution.His animals -- which crawl, lurch, and slither along the damp sand between the dunes and the ocean -- have muscles (pumps made from soda bottles that manipulate and store wind pressure), nerves (switches that control the action of pumps), and even a brain (a step-counter and timer based on the inverter and RC circuit in electronics), all built out of plastic and PVC, without any electronics. Jansen also equips his creatures with thin tubes that detect the resistance of water or dry sand so that they know if they reach...

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