Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen with Photography by Lena Herzog

January 26, 2016

February 6–May 1, 2016, at the Chicago Cultural Center Global Phenomenon “Beach Creatures” Make Their Midwest Debut

Christine Carrino, 312.744.0573

Jamey Lundblad, 312.744.2493


Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen with Photography brings Theo Jansen’s wholly distinctive Strandbeests – or “beach creatures” – to the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St.) this February 6 to May 1. The exhibition, organized by the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), is the first large-scale museum tour of Jansen’s creations in the United States. It celebrates the thrill of their unique locomotion and shows the processes that have driven their evolution and development on the Dutch seacoast over the last 25 years. The selection of sculptures, blurring the lines of art, engineering, science and performance, are accompanied by artist sketches, a display of retired “fossils,” immersive video, and photography by Lena Herzog, who spent more than seven years documenting the Strandbeests' evolution. Handlers will tend to the creatures and provide daily demonstrations of their animation and breath.

With a singular focus and sense of play, Jansen has developed his Strandbeests from rudimentary structures of PVC tubing and zip ties into intricate, autonomous creatures that can respond to environmental changes by storing wind power, anchoring against oncoming storms and tacking away from the water's edge. Originally inspired by the threat of rising sea levels, Jansen imagined a mechanical creature that could pile sand back up on the dunes. As time went on, Jansen became more fascinated with exploring ideas around the origins of life.

An annual rhythm structures the Strandbeests' life cycle. Innovations are imagined and explored in the studio in winter, then tested and adapted on the beach in summer. Each new species of Strandbeest boasts new tactics and adaptations for their seaside survival. By fall, the creatures have outlived their evolutionary use and become part of Jansen's fossil record. Like evolution itself, this process is ruthless, searching and unending.

"Normally evolution has millions of years to take place but I may only have another 20 years to work," said Jansen. "I am always dreaming about the future of the Strandbeests. By the time I leave the planet, I want to leave a new species for you."

At the heart of Jansen's hand-built creatures' uncanny motion is a leg system constructed of 11 lengths of PVC (Jansen's "artistic protein"). At the start of the evolutionary process, Jansen wrote a genetic algorithm to help determine the most efficient form of locomotion possible. An Atari home computer sifted through the millions of possible ratios of PVC lengths to arrive at his 13 "holy numbers." Recently, to ensure the Strandbeests' continued reproduction, Jansen released these numbers, propelling artists, makers and thinkers all over the world to aid with the evolution of this uniquely open-source species.

Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Salem, MA. Audemars Piguet, the tour's National Sponsor, provided generous support to PEM. Grant support provided to DCASE by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, The Netherland-America Foundation and Peabody Essex Museum.


Public Programs

Strandbeest Opening Preview with the Artist

Friday, February 5, 7–9pm

Join artist Theo Jansen and the team of interpreters for demonstrations and discussion of the kinetic sculptures that have become a global phenomenon.

Chicago Cultural Center, Exhibit Hall & Sidney R. Yates Gallery, 4th Floor North


Strandbeest STEAM Family Day

Saturday, February 6, from 12–4pm

As part of the opening weekend activities, Strandbeest will feature STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Family Day. Interactive activities and making opportunities will be offered throughout the building along with demonstrations of the exhibition’s kinetic sculptures. Interact with modular snake robots from Carnegie Mellon University, use your imagination to create toys with FrankenToyMobile and more!

Chicago Cultural Center


Theo Jansen and Lawrence Weschler Discussion: February 7, 1–3pm

Artist Theo Jansen and Chicago Humanities Festival’s emeritus artistic director Lawrence Weschler discuss Jansen’s experiences over the last 25 years developing his beautiful Strandbeests – or “beach creatures.”

Chicago Cultural Center, Preston Bradley Hall, 3rd Floor South

For a schedule of daily demonstrations of the “beests,” visit


Chicago Cultural Center Exhibitions

Admission to the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington Street, and its exhibitions is FREE. The building and 1st floor galleries (including the Michigan Avenue Galleries and Garland Gallery) are open Monday–Thursday, 9am–7pm, Friday–Saturday, 9am–6pm and Sunday 10am–6pm; upper floor galleys are open Monday–Thursday, 10am–7pm and Friday–Sunday, 10am–6pm; closed holidays. All exhibitions are presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. For information, visit, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @ChiCulturCenter.


Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) is dedicated to enriching Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy. This includes fostering the development of Chicago’s non-profit arts sector, independent working artists and for-profit arts businesses; providing a framework to guide the City’s future cultural and economic growth, via the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan; marketing the City’s cultural assets to a worldwide audience; and presenting high-quality, free and affordable cultural programs for residents and visitors. For more information, visit


Image: Animaris Umerus, Scheveningen beach, Netherlands (2009). Courtesy of Theo Jansen. Photo by Loek van der Klis.


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