Artist Theo Jansen Makes Magical Walking Works of Art

The enigmatic Theo Jansen tells us his childhood aspirations, what ageing means to him and when it's okay to lie.
Friday 7 September 2018
The visionary behind the spectacular lifelike structures, Strandbeests, Dutchman Theo Jansen. Photo: Media Force

You may not be able to pick artist Theo Jansen out from a crowd but you’ll recognise his creation – Strandbeests. Jansen’s magnificent creations are beach-bound, owing to their initial function as a means to combat beach erosion.

These amazing feats of engineering move with an uncannily lifelike gait, mimicking a member of the Equidae family. Stare at them a little longer and you could almost be certain that they are, in fact, real. Suspend belief for a little while – Jansen himself has – the results are nothing short of mesmerising.

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The Animaris Sabulosa in the first gallery of Wind Walkers at Marina Bay Sands. Photo: Media Force

How could you describe yourself? “I’m a rational optimist.”

Favourite holiday destination and why: “Langkawi actually, it’s my wife’s favourite holiday destination. I’m more of a homebody – I’m really just her holiday companion.”

What do you do in your spare time? “I’m a guitarist in two bands, one of them with my daughter. We play African music and we all have a good time.”

Country music or hip hop: “Definitely hip hop.”

What ageing means to you: “I was always afraid of ageing (as all young people are) but now I’m a very happy man. I enjoy every minute of it. You appreciate life even more because you know it ends.”

What you wanted to be as a child: “A pop star, or a pilot. I got my license at 18 but my eyes were not good enough, so in this sense, failure was still good for me because it allowed me to become who I am today.”

When is it okay to lie? “When it’s good for everybody. Artists are constantly lying and making people believe in something that’s not there to stimulate the imagination. My Strandbeests themselves are a fairy tale of an old man thinking he can make new specimens.”

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Jansen with his magificent creation, Plaudens Vela 2. Photo: Media Force

What makes you the happiest? “When something succeeds with the Strandbeests- I can’t feel happier than that. Music, too.”

When do you get your best creative ideas? “Early – between 5 and 6 in the morning.”

What you’re listening to right now: “James Brown – I’ve been a big fan of his since the 60s.”

If you could be anywhere in the world right now: “Singapore of course. [Jansen was in Singapore recently to promote his exhibition at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands].

Favourite cuisine: “Chinese. I love noodles!”

Guilty pleasure: “That’s a secret!”

How do you relax? “By taking afternoon naps and riding my bicycle. Being among nature.”

A good book you have read recently: “I’m currently reading one about Einstein’s theory of relativity but unfortunately I cannot remember the title. The cover is of a man painting a clock.”

We’ll leave you with Jansen and his Strandbeests’ cameo appearances in The Simpsons:

Related: The Stunning Results of Merging Art With Nature