Theo Jansen refers to himself as a “kinetic sculptor”, but words can hardly do justice to what he creates. Well, I suppose there would be some debate over whether or not the word “he” fits into that last sentence, given the evolutionary way in which his ideas develop, but hey, I’m getting too wrapped up in semantics here, when we should be talking about his work.
Theo Jansen is an artist who works in the union between art, engineering, genetics, and machine learning, to speak venn-diagrammatically. The basic gist is that he writes computer programs that work with models of motion, and through genetic algorithms those models are developed or grown into new forms; they are subjected to many iterations of selection and reproduction (according to a predetermined abstraction of fitness), and through this “artificial evolution” new forms emerge. Some of the models which are born out of these computer experiments Jensen then makes into real life constructions, breathing life into plastic tubing, soda bottles, and plastic sheeting. These contraptions are wind-powered, and are often let loose upon the windy shores of the beach that his studio sits on (confabulation might be a better word for what he builds, as the vision they create blends the tastes of both familiarity and imagination).
This intangible recognition of the other-worldly and biological natures of his creations just mystifies me. A very similar emotional response as to the fantastic and ineffable creations of Hayoa Miyakaki, which in itself touches upon a similar juxtaposition as what the steampunk and/or cyberpunk movements seem to be aiming for. In this case it is the “kinetic” part of his self-ascribed moniker where most of the magic is to be found. Take a look for yourself:
- a BMW commercial that features a number of his creations walking about
- Animaris Rhinoceros
- Animaris Geneticus Ondula
There is a fair bit of information about Jansen’s work online, and if you have the time, there’s a great 20-minute lecture he gave which goes over how these models are created and function in more detail.