Meet the Beest Wranglers

The job description marked a first for PEM – and probably also a last: Seeking motivated individuals with knowledge of engineering, interest in contemporary art, passion for working with people, ability to remain calm in high-pressure situations, and a proven ability to work with hand and power tools, including an air compressor.

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Photo by Allison White.

“It was definitely the weirdest cover letter I ever wrote,” says Ben Patey, one of six individuals hired for the new position of Interpreter/ Operator, informally known around here as the Beest Wranglers.

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Photo by Allison White.

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Photo by Allison White.

A unique feature of the exhibition Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen is the presence of handlers hired to help the 42-footlong beest Animaris Suspendise take an occasional stroll in the gallery, powered by wind from the aforementioned air compressor. Outfitted in aprons and bright yellow T-shirts, they also assist guests who want to walk two of the smaller beests, known as the Ordises. And they are available to field questions about these amazing kinetic sculptures and the equally amazing artist who brought them to life.

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Photo by Allison White.

Prior to the opening, the new employees underwent multiple training sessions with PEM staff and Jansen himself. They learned how to make minor repairs with pipe cutters, the ins and outs of guest engagement, and the appropriate speed for walking the beests in a crowded gallery. “Out of an abundance of caution, a walking pace is good,” advises Francesca Williams, registrar for exhibitions. “And remember, people can be timid about handling them. They need your reassurances.”

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Photo by Allison White.

Patey, a Salem resident, discovered Jansen on YouTube (“very little on the Internet escapes my attention”) and sent away for a kit to make a mini-Strandbeest long before he heard about the exhibition coming to PEM. His background as an artist/theater prop builder/bike mechanic is typical of the diverse skill sets that the operators bring to the job. “I am just so excited to be around them and mess around with the mechanics,” says Patey.

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Photo by Allison White.

Sarah Graziano, a docent, sculptor and Montserrat College of Art graduate, called the position “my dream job.” Shannon Skilling brings to the role a bachelor in fine arts in painting and experience as an instructor at a “paint-and-sip” art studio in Beverly. She was drawn to the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to meet Jansen. “Being part of a moment with people I know and people I don’t know,” she says, “is a life-changing thing.”

4 Comments

  1. Sylvia Belkin says:

    Thank you, Beest Wranglers. As one of many docents for school children’s tours at PEM, I looked to the Wranglers as a wonderful compliment to our journey through the gallery. .The Wranglers kindly and confidently answered all kinds of questions from the kids and provided necessary order when the kids got to push the Ordises. Thank you, Wranglers. I have no doubt that your experience with the Beests and their inventor will resound for a long time, and I’m very glad for that! Cheers to all of you!

  2. Jim Olson says:

    You all have done an amazing job demoing the Beests. I have seen a few demonstrations, including one with my family, and I have to say each one was the perfect blend of professionalism, education, and entertainment. Well done.

  3. Alice Abrams says:

    Question:
    will the wranglers give demos during the day tomorrow?
    I want to come see them move.

  4. Ash says:

    We loved the exhibit and the wranglers were great! Thank you all for a fantastic experience. I bought the remote control Tarantula and the Jr scientist Strandbeest model kit and everyone loves them in New Hampshire! Theo is my hero!

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