Theo Jansen’s Amazing Creatures in Madrid

Espacio Fundación Telefónica is currently showcasing Theo Jansen’s incredible Strandbeest (Beach Beasts) until the 17 January. Jansen is a Dutch artist who has devoted his life to the creation of unbelievable sculptural constructions which resemble creatures from a fairy-tale world that move and interact with their environment as if they were truly living beings. The beasts are made from plastic tubes and bottles and are powered by the wind. Jansen’s beasts live independently on the Netherlands’ beaches until they die; only to return to the artist’s workshop as fossils.


Theo Jansen, Espacio Fundación Telefónica

Animaris Ordis A, Cerebrum Period, from 2006. This creature is a unit with twelve legs


Jansen’s original plan was to develop these animals in order to preserve the ecosystem and protect Dutch beaches, as they are slowly disappearing by the ever-rising level of the sea. However, throughout the years Jansen has abandoned his environmental project, letting his imagination run free to awaken generations and generations of beasts.


Theo Jansen, Espacio Fundación Telefónica

Animaris Currens Ventosa, Calidum Period, 1993-1994. The first creture able to walk using wind power. It has fins on its back which when activated by the wind should set the legs in motion. Image courtesy of Espacio Fundación Telefónica.


As a matter of fact, the theory of evolution plays a key role in Theo Jansen’s art. Jansen divides his creatures into different species and several evolutionary stages depending on their degree of autonomy and capacity to move and adapt. Some of his creatures have a heart, a stomach and something similar to a brain, which allows them to evolve throughout time and avoid obstacles (such as the sea itself) by changing direction. They are self-sufficient and can adjust to the environment in order to survive. Every year the artist works on evolutionary improvements, striving to create a stronger and more efficient creature by experimenting with new mechanisms. Those which turn out to be useful to the beasts’ survival are passed on to the following generation, and those which prove to be useless are abandoned and eradicated. With the power of imagination and deep knowledge of art, physics, engineering and pneumatics, Jansen has brought to life the most marvellous creatures which, like all beings, live and die. Once their life is over, Jansen removes them from the beach and does not attempt to restore the damage caused by the weather; they become fossils.


Theo Jansen, Espacio Fundación Telefónica

Animaris Percipere Primus, Cepebrum Period, from 2006. the forward part of the beast has a stomach of plastic bottles capable of storing compressed air. If there is no wind, the creature can use this backup air supply to propel itself. Image courtsey of


Built from simple materials, the creatures’ actual functioning is incredibly complex.  In Jansen’s own words “the walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds.” His works of art break away from the traditional understanding of sculpture, creating a new aesthetic experience by combining structure and movement and blurring the lines between reality and fiction. When looking at the creatures move one would think them alive; the artist himself refers to his creations as beings that think, breathe and take decisions, living their own, unique lives. In Espacio Fundación Telefónica two of the beasts are aroused at specific times so that everyone can admire the beauty and intricacy of Jansen’s achievement in action. Click here to see the Beach Beasts moving.


Theo Jansen, Espacio Funadación Telefónica

Image courtesy of


Theo Jansen’s sculptures are the result of a brilliant mind. Although he did not complete his university degree, the artist’s perseverance and passionate creativity have resulted in some of the most remarkable and wonderfully mind-boggling forms of art. This is definitely an exhibition worth visiting; you’ll be bewildered and charmed by the magic of Jansen’s Beach Beasts.

 Theo Jansen, Amazing Creatures, Espacio Fundación Telefónica, Madrid, until 17 January 2016.


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by Clara Ollier
in Focus on Europe

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory