STRAANDBEEST The Evolution of the Animaris

Theo Jansen’s book The Great Pretender is a thorough text explaining the origins and evolution of his world-renowned “beach animal”, the “Strandbeest”, or “Animaris”.  Jansen first conceived the Animaris in 1986 while he was writing for Volkskrant.  Since then they have gone through eight (one is a preamble of concept, and seven are subsequent development) evolutionary periods.  The book is divided into two parts wherein the right side is a narrative of Jansen’s vision, and the left provides pictures and insight into the artist’s mind as he developed the visions from the right side into tangible reality.

“I have been writing pieces for de Volkskrant national on daily matters that interest me.  Often these are technical things, fantasies or musings.  I had no idea at the time that one of these columns would ultimately define the rest of my life. “

The Journey From Dream to Living Reality

From 1986 to 1990 Jansen’s idea was still just a dream.  Theo began toying with the idea of creating an artificial life form with virtual animals on his computer, and a great deal of soul-searching.  The magical concept began slipping itself into his thoughts every day, until he could barely think of anything else.  In 1991 after six months of contemplation, Jansen wandered into a hardware store one day, and almost absent-mindedly found himself holding the plastic tubing that would become the dominant material for bringing his vision to life.  Once he realized that the fascinating dream really had the tangible potential to become a reality through the simple building block of plastic tubing, Jansen decided to dedicate a year to exploring the possibilities enabled by the tubes…and thus, the dream became a reality with limitless potential.

Over the subsequent years Jansen discovered new materials to further the movement and freedom of his creations.  He compares the experience to the dichotomy of being a god-like creator of life – the euphoria and joy of creating and providing, coupled with the heavy crown of difficulty and responsibility.  The periods in the Great Pretender reflect the stages of evolution as the Strandbeest grew and adapted.  The narrative takes on a dreamlike quality as the artist was himself on a dreamlike adventure of exploration and wonder.  Just as evolution will never end, Jansen’s journey continues today.  The animals are now capable of storing energy from the wind, reacting to the tides and rolling dunes of their beach environments and even protecting themselves from turbulent weather.  Jansen looks to the future when his creations will learn to procreate.

I. Pregluten period 1986-1990: Theo begins toying with the idea of creating an artificial life form with virtual animals on his computer, and a great deal of dream-like introspection.

II. Gluten period 1990-1991: (the “tape” period) After six months of contemplation, Jansen finds himself holding the plastic tubing that will be the dominant material for bringing his vision to life.  He decides to dedicate a year to exploring the possibilities enabled by the tubes…the dream becomes a reality with limitless potential.  Animus Vulgaris is born.

III. Chorda period 1991-1993:  (the “strap” period) A new material for better movement allows the joints and legs of the Animaris Vulgaris to evolve.

IV. Calidum period 1993-1994: (the “hot” period) Introduction of heat gun.  [Animaris Speculator] The beests adapt to navigating in their sand environment.

V. Tepideem period 1994-1997: (the “less-hot” period) Jansen explores the “genes” of electrical tubing, the biological value of symmetry, and the dichotomy of pregnancy and death. [Animaris Ancora/Animaris Geneticae]

VI. Lignatum period 1997-2001: (the “wood” period) Wood pallets lead Jansen to “reinvent the wheel” and Rhinoceros Transport is born.

VII. Vaporum period 2001-2006: (the “pneumonic” period) A standard anatomy and process of reproduction is born, and “self-locomotion” takes the Animari closer to independence.

VIII. Cerebrum period 2006-present: (the “brains” period) The Animari continue to evolve, providing solutions to surviving in their beach environments.  Their herds move toward a future of complete independence.

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    The Calidum period was a huge step in development with the adaptation of wind sails for the Animaris Currens Ventosa.
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    The Tepideem period introduced Animaris Geneticus. The creatures adopt symmetry and Jansen considers their own procreation.
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    The engineering complexity of the Animaris is evident in this picture of the Animaris Vermiculus.
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    This enormous duckbilled platypus-looking beach animal can detect changes in its environment in order to act in self-preservation.
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    The animals are powered by the wind, and they have developed the capacity to store this energy.
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    Animaris Percipiere Primus lumbers about the beach like a great winged serpent.
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    The towering Mortuus Ventus marches into the future.
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    This simple leg component contributes an indispensible element to the remarkably complex system of artificial life.