A spin through Theo Jansen’s Universe

On the morning of November 16, 2016 Theo Jansen emerged from the former church at Delft’s Prinsenhof Museum with a tube of glue and a twinkle in his eye. He had just put the final touches on a new exhibition about his very unusual career.

Theo Jansen’s Universe officially opens to the public on November 18 and it will continue at the Prinsenhof through March 5. The artist curated the exhibit himself and it offers visitors an up close glimpse at many of his strange strandbeests. You may have seen one of the YouTube videos that show the kinetic sculptures casually strutting alongside the North Sea at Scheveningen. Jansen, who studied at TU Delft in the 1970s, has spent the past few decades designing and steadily improving these mechanical oddities.

Since building the first one in the early ’90s, he’s created larger and more sophisticated strandbeests that feature elaborate fans and intricate components that make use of everything from modified PVC pipes to plastic bottles. Originally, he hoped that they could be used to construct sand dunes to fight rising sea levels. That goal has yet to be achieved. Nevertheless, the strandbeests, which are powered entirely by wind (or a few air hoses when they’re displayed indoors) have helped Jansen become something of an international phenomenon. They’ve appeared in the pages of The New Yorker, on various television news segments and in museums around the world.

But Jansen has also worked on other projects over the years. In 1980, he sent a four metre wide sculpture filled with helium flying over the streets of Delft. He called it ‘UFO’ and more than a few people thought it was actually piloted by aliens, especially when it managed to float all the way to Rotterdam. The stunt earned Jansen lots of attention but the sculpture was lost in the process.

“It probably wound up somewhere in Belgium,” he said during a press conference at the museum.

A video about the incident can be viewed at the exhibit along with displays that explain the challenges the artist has faced while building bigger and better strandbeests. You can click here for tickets and further information.

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