Glum security guards, harried travelers and all that classic hurry up and wait. None of this airport rigamarole is going to dampen my spirits. Nope, not a chance. It’s Sunday morning and I am flying to help my colleagues launch Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen at Art Basel Miami Beach — a project we have been working on with great anticipation for quite some time.
Stopping by the airport newsstand, I have a mission: grab as many copies of The New York Times and Financial Times as I can reasonably carry. The Strandbeest buzz has been building and this is a particularly good day as each paper carries a major feature on the project.
Riffling through the papers, I can’t help but smile. For a PR person, this is as good as Christmas morning. The New York Times feature begins with a two-page photo spread of Theo Jansen clambering around one of his many-legged, wind-propelled creations, in this case the 42-foot-long Animaris Suspendisse. The article is written by Lawrence Weschler and it reads as a deep and sensitive love letter to the artist and his work, as much as a provocative rumination on the foundational principles of life.
The Financial Times previews all of the art happenings in Miami Beach and concludes that the Strandbeests exhibition will, “provide one of the most fantastical and exciting spectacles at this year’s Art Basel” while also noting it will be, “a show within a show, one that makes ambitious use of the event’s seaside setting, and seems to make a bold statement about how these days the best and biggest art fairs never fail to burst their walls and commandeer their surroundings, both urban and natural.” That smile? Yup, it’s still there.
For all the planning, writing, thinking and talking about this project, nothing properly prepares you for the in-person experience of meeting a Strandbeest. In my case, shortly after arriving in Miami.
Our curator, Trevor Smith, kindly gave me the lay of the land with a tour around our football-field-sized exhibition lot at the edge of the ocean (For those of you in the area: Miami Beach Drive between 21st and 22nd streets). I expected a scene of frenzied production crews running crisscross about, but instead the site exuded calm concentration as everyone worked at their tasks. The Strandbeests seem to somehow dictate this mood or at least help set the tone. Their forms are exotic, but benevolent, like say, as if an alien’s loyal companion has been plopped on the beach and just wants to play. Lacking facial expressions (or faces for that matter), the Strandbeests communicate uncannily through posture and movement alone. Just watch how Animaris Suspendisse wags its tail:
This calm concentration also comes from the Strandbeests’ creator, artist Theo Jansen. Film crews capture his every movement as he readies the beests for Art Basel. A bright orange air compressor hose cuts a dramatic line through the sand as Jansen tests the air valves and pistons, causing the beests to make odd little howls and squeaks like an over-sized theremin is being played. Trial and error is a major part of the Strandbeests’ development and Jansen, after 25 years of this work, is right at home in this seaside laboratory.
Lawrence Weschler, the author of the Times article is also at the beach today. We talk and he explains his admiration for Jansen’s work with the Nabokov quote, “A true master has the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.”
Editor’s Note: Read more Strandbeest posts on Connected: