Art meets Science: Combining Sculpture and AI

– Welcome. My name is Christopher Merrill, and as director of the
International Writing Program, it’s my great pleasure to welcome
you to this special event. Before we start, a couple
of housekeeping rules. Please, silence or turn
off your cellphones. After Mr. Jansen’s address, he will take questions over here. You’ll have to line up for that. Okay? And the reception, most important of all, will be afterwards, next
door in the (audio cuts out) Honors Center. And final announcement is to say, this is a, part of the
Creative Matters Series, and we’ve just learned this afternoon, that the sixth and final
lecture of the fall will take place on either
December eighth or ninth. Marilyn Robinson will be
delivering a lecture called: American Scholar Now. (applause) Tonight’s lecture by the
Dutch artist and engineer, Theo Jansen, the fifth in
a year-long series titled, Creative Matters, is sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research. So I wish to begin by singling
out for special thanks, Dan Reed, who’s support
for the arts and humanities is crucial to the life of our community. Creative Matters, which
brings together artists, writers and thinkers, to
discuss the creative process, grows out of the Arts
Advancement Committee, convened by Provost Barry Butler, Dean of the College of
Liberal Arts and Sciences, Traiden Jololly,
co-chaired by Alan McVeigh and Chuck Swanson. Our charge was to synthesize energies, forge connections across disciplines, spark new ideas in conjunction with the rebuilding of our arts campus. The flood of 2008, which
wreaked such havoc, has inspired a building boom. Which we hope to match
in a variety of artistic and intellectual ways. Creative Matters is the
brainchild of David Gear, George De La Pena, Ann Rickets,
and Leslie Weatherhead, whom I owe a great deal of thanks. This event would still
be in the dreaming stage, absent their tireless efforts. Creativity is a defining feature
of the University of Iowa. The first higher-educational
institution in this country to award graduate credit
for creative work. And to broaden our understanding
of the mysterious means by which new discoveries
are made in the arts, humanities, and sciences, we
often turn to the creative process, reflections,
invention, (audio cuts out) arts and sciences, a book
of essays and reflections on the ways in which artists, writers, composers, mathematicians and scientists have made discoveries
that contributed so much to our fabric of life. In the introduction to this book, and in print continuously
for over 60 years, poet (audio cuts out)
Geeslin, argues that, quote: invention in the arts
and in thought is a part of the invention of life. Creative Matters fosters such invention, because it is critical to our aesthetic, physical, and spiritual survival. There is no more vital artistic inventor than Theo Jansen, who has been called the Leonardo Da Vinci
(audio cuts out) century. He began painting in the 1970s, after abandoning a physics degree at the University of Delft, and it was not long before
his restless imagination, interest in robotics, aeronautics, led him to create a
spaceship, (audio cuts out) form of a flying saucer. Which flew over his terror-stricken city. It was vastly unlike the (audio cuts out) over most of the west coast the other. But it was with his sequence
of kinetic sculptures, Strandbeests, or
beach-beasts, that he achieved international acclaim. Using basic materials like
plastic (audio cuts out), blends together his
discoveries in engineering, biomechanics, and art,
to create green machines which seem to possess lives of their own. Subject (audio cuts out)
shaping forces of wind and sand, these machines walk across
the (audio cuts out) dinosaurs, each seek (audio
cuts out) sculptures, marking an advance in their evolution. For Mr. Jansen, dreams
of building creatures that will survive (audio cuts out) lost world of the dinosaurs, stored the ingenuity of a singular artist. Join me in welcoming Jansen
to the University of Iowa. (applause) – Thanks very much, Chris. (applause) Thank you very much. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I cannot tell you how
honored and grateful I am that I’m asked here to
tell the story of my life. About my life, but also about
the life I tried to create. So, when I was about 17, I had a dream, and that dream was to fly. So I wanted to become a pilot. But, somehow, well, my
eyes were not good enough. And I did some courses in flying, and I really enjoyed it,
but my eyes were not good. I was losing my fields, so I
couldn’t know where to land. So that would take landing in places where you were not supposed to land. (laughing) So, they advised me not to do that. That was, of course, a disappointment. But if my eyes would
have been good enough, I wouldn’t be here. I would be flying around in airplanes. So, then I decided to study
physics in the town of Delft, which was just 15
kilometers away from home. It’s nothing comparing
the distances, here, so I emigrated to Delft, which is inland. I was born on the beach,
almost, in Scheveningen. And I studied physics
there for seven years, but I was not a very good student. And it was the hippy times, so I was distracted a
bit from my studying. And so, I became a painter. I never got my diploma of physics. I became a painter; I
painted for many years. I got a studio in Delft. And I’m still working there. So, in artistry, about 35
years I’m working there. Then, indeed, like Chris told you that, in 1980, there landed an idea in my head that I wanted to build a flying saucer, which could really fly. And the thing was black. It had a diameter of four meters. And it was just plastic
filled with helium. But I launched it on a
day that was a bit hazy. The weather was a bit hazy. And because of the contrast with the sky, you couldn’t see any depth in there. And so people just saw a disc,
traveling through the sky. But you cannot estimate how high it is. (laughing) If you think it’s very high,
that many people thought, then it’s very big, and it goes fast. And so, that was on television, and I was famous for a
few months in my country. (laughing) And after that, I was not
able to paint anymore. Because, I tasted, more or less, of attention, which was wider. So I think the motivation to stop painting was a little bit vulgar. (laughter) Asking for attention. And so, I start making machines. And that resulted in a
machine which could paint. So I didn’t have to paint anymore. (laughter) It was a spray gun, which
is sensitive for light. So if there is light on
it, then it stops painting. But as soon as dark, it
starts spraying paint. And it was mounted on a
wall, and the light cell was at the end of a tube, so
when traveling across the wall, it would react on all the lights which is in front of the wall. So, if there was a person
with a white shirt, when it would see the white shirt, it would close the spray gun, so that would be white there, as well. But if a black person
comes by, it was black. So, the result is that, when
travelling along the wall, it would paint a photographic painting from all the objects which
were before the wall. So, a few years, I lived on that machine. And then, because I took it on my car and I traveled it to festivals,
and I demonstrated that. And then there came this, in the meantime, I was a writer, and in
1990, I wrote a column about sort of skeletons,
which would walk on beaches. And these skeletons, they would gather sands to build up dunes. Because Al Gore told us that
the sea level would rise, and that in a few decades,
Holland would disappear, because of this, the rising sea level. Now, the basic material
for that skeletons, everybody knows this in Holland. Since it’s the color of cheese. We use it for power lines in houses. And especially, my getting
to know this kind of tube, it was about when I was 11 years old, I had a sort of hobby. All the Dutch people in
the audience, there’s some, know what I’m doing. Because all Dutch boys do this. So imagine there’s an
open window in the back. Now, I’ll try to do this safe. (laughter) Well, sorry for you. (hissing exhale) (laughter) That’s how it all started. And so this kind of nice tube, it’s very cheap, so you
don’t have to be rich to build big skeletons,
and these skeletons, they turn out to walk. And while working with this kind of tube, I realized that I,
because I restrict myself to this material, I’m doing the same thing as the real creator. Because, the real creator
restricted himself also, very much, in the choice of his materials. He just used protein to build us. You can make skin with protein, eyes, everything you can make with protein, and you wouldn’t say that
if you put an egg in the pan to fry it, this is a clumsy
material, you wouldn’t say that that is the ultimate
construction material for life. But still, if you have millions of years, and you try again and again,
and that’s what protein does. It renews itself all the time. It tries again and again. Then the result is not bad. The way we’re sitting here, after all those billions of years. I try to do the same. I restrict myself just
to this kind of tube, and I try to make
everything with this tube, and I discovered that
this restriction, in fact, brings me further than I
would, by all the stuff I need, which I come up with. So I will explain that later. First, I wanna get in the mood for Strandbeest by showing a video. And you get to here some
Gustav Marlow music with it. So I hope you get in the right mood. (spacey instrumental music) Now here, the animal drives
a pin into the ground, to anchor itself for a coming storm. So, during the generations,
the Strandbeests, oh, can we stop here? Thank you. So, during the generations,
every time I try to, ah, to find a new aspect of
surviving on the beach. Because the big dangers, for instance, are the storms, the wind silences, the sands, the sand always
creeps into the joints, and also the water, of course. And every time I try
something new, a new method, you could see this as
the evolution of methods that these animals survive, better weather these circumstances. Now, I just use this kind of tube to, ah, as a sort of principle, you, ah, you couldn’t call it a religion. It’s gone too far, but I
don’t wanna buy everything. I just wanna have just a bunch of tubes and then make the things. And that, the consequence of that, is that when I have to
plan, and I go to my studio, and I want to realize that plan, that usually doesn’t succeed. Because the tubes, they protest. They don’t wanna do what I wanna do. They always want something else. And the next day, I go to my studio again, and then I have, again, I have a new idea, but that’s based on the
experiences of the day before, with the tubes, and somehow, these tubes, they push me in another way, every time. And in fact, most of
my plans don’t succeed, without all the plans of the tubes. And the roads, the path
is very unpredictable, because it’s very capricious, and you don’t know where to go. And in the end, you could say
that I didn’t make the animal, or I didn’t design the animal, but it’s done by the tubes. And I’m surprised, myself,
how beautiful the beasts are. I didn’t work on beauty. It’s done by the tubes. So, people praise me for
the beauty of the beasts, but in fact, I don’t feel
really responsible for that. It’s done by the tubes. I just did what the tube dictated to me. I would like to tell you about the reproduction of the beasts. Well, my first ideas of
reproduction was, of course, they I would feed tubes to the animals, and then they would work on it, and make an animal, which
could also make another animal, and I would certainly succeed doing that, but it would take a
few more million years. I’ve only 20 years to do this, but it turned out that the Strandbeests, they were already reproducing, and they did it behind my back. And I will tell you how that happened. Before I can tell you that, I have to tell something
about the anatomy, anatomy? Yeah, of the beasts, so the Strandbeests, they have a sort of backbone, which makes circular movements like this. And this circular movement is transformed to a walking movement, written
by the pencil down there. And that’s done by all
these tubes in between. Now you see, as soon as the
pencil is on the ground, it draws, more or less, a straight line. I hope you can see this in the back. It draws, more or less, a straight line, and that means that the animal,
it stays on the same level. It doesn’t toss up and down like we, when we walk, we always go
up and down a little bit. But the special way of Strandbeest walking is that they stay on the same level. And that’s because of
the shape of this curve. Because of the straight bottom, there. Now, the shape of that
curve is very much depending on the length of the
tubes between the backbone and the pencil. If you have another proportion of length, then you get a totally
different curve there. Now, when I started
this, I didn’t know which proportion of length I
needed to get this curve. That’s why I wrote a computer program, which has this model in it. So when, with a given
proportion of length, you could predict the shape of the curve. But still, there’s so many possibilities that if I would let pass
all the possibilities in the computer, it
wasn’t very progressive. It was an Atari computer. You’re too young to know what that is. (laughter) But it’s a, the Atari computer, it’s, if I let pass all the possibilities, it would be on for 100,000 years. So I, maybe, with a good computer, can bring it back to 100 years. But still, it’s too long. That’s why I needed to use
the principle of evolution, in there, and that worked in a way that were born 1,500 legs
like this in the Atari, and they all had random lengths of tubes. So you get 1,500 different
shapes of curves, the pencil draws all kinds of curves, 1,500 different ones, and
none of them is this one. The chance is very small. But some of these 1,500 curves, they are lookalikes of this curve. I knew because they have
a sort of resemblance. And those are selected by the computer and they get the privilege
to keep on living. The other ones, they die. And they get, apart from
the privilege of living, they also get the
privilege of multiplying. That means that the tubes are copied and reassembled to 1,500 new combinations. In the computer, still. And that you could see
as the next generation, which is, has more
resemblance with this curve. Now, this process of
reproducing and selection, it went on for a few
months, day and night, in the computer, and
there came out 13 numbers. Out of the computer,
which were the lengths of the tubes I needed to get this curve. And so, in fact, the way
the Strandbeests are walking is based on a proportion of numbers. That’s the big secret of the Strandbeest are 13 holy numbers. And you could see this as the
DNA codes of the Strandbeests. And I put this code on my
website, on the internet, and since then, thousands of
students in the whole world are using this code to make Strandbeests. And all these students, they have the idea that they are having a good time, that they have a nice hobby, but the fact is, they are used for the reproduction for the Strandbeest. (laughter) So they’re infected with these DNA codes, and so the Strandbeests, they
use humanity to multiply. They see us just as a heap of protein. Which is useful for reproducing them. And this reproduction came
to an acceleration when, a few years ago, two
students came to my studio and they brought a box. Here’s the box. This came out. There’s a paper in there. (audience murmurs and laughs) Everybody can see it? And they said that this
animal is not assembled. It was born. They said it was born. And it turns out to be
born in a 3D printer. And I knew about 3D printers like, well, we all do, but I
didn’t know you could make moving objects in 3D printers. And this was a very, very
ingenious 3D printer. It spreads out a thin
layer of nylon powder, and then a laser melts
some parts together, then a next layer of
nylon powder goes over it, again, the laser, layer by layer. A long, it takes hours, hours, hours, and then you end up with a
box full of nylon powder, and this animal is in there. You just have to blow the powder off, and it runs over the table. Well, I was, how do you call this? In American? Flabbergasted? (laughing) Because, after, I hope you
realize what kind of epoch we are born, that after four
and a half billion years of reproduction in DNA and
protein, we are now reproducing with DNA codes of zeros and
ones, and using nylon powder. Because these zeros and ones,
you can put on the internet and you can print out an animal
at all sides of the world. And that’s what’s
happening, at the moment. But you see here, this,
in fact, it’s a mutant. It’s made by somebody in
Amsterdam, called Art Lagerfeld. And he made his own DNA codes. And I must say, it walks quite nice. Maybe his code is better than my code. And that means, it will have more descendants on the internet. What I want to say is that
there is an evolution going on on the internet, of Strandbeests, which is totally out of control. (laughing) It’s happening without me, and I couldn’t stop it if I would want it. It’s just happening. And that’s what I call “life”. It’s, so, the Strandbeest
are really reproducing not maybe as a gene, but there’s a meme, that, especially on YouTube,
people have seen that, they wanna reproduce it, somehow. It turns on people to
make Strandbeest of wood, of aluminum, and you
have so many kinds now. You have the Segway,
you’re standing on there, and you have bicycles,
you have wheelchairs. There’s a very funny one,
which I just have seen because there’s now an
exhibition going on in Salem, not too far away from here. Salem, in Massachusetts, near Boston. And there, they have all these, these hackers, they call them, and it was a small ball with
a hamster running in there. And it was mounted on a
very small Strandbeest, so it wound, there. The hamster was running, it was walking. That was a good idea. So, yeah, they are all mutants, and they all have descendants. And I think the animal will
become better and better, just because of this evolution. So, now I would like to tell you something about the nervous system of the beasts. Chris, could you help me? And hold this, so that
everybody can see it. – Yeah. – Wonderful. Because I need all my hands to do this. (laughter) Sorry. Thank you very much; well done. (applause) So, there’s a small
O-ring, at the end, here. And it fits exactly in another tube, so these pumps, you could say, they are connected with the wing. So you have seen, in the movie, you have seen the wings going
up and down in the wind. And these are connected, so it pumps air. And just like a bicycle pump, and it pumps air into soda bottles, which are on the back of the beast. So they pressed wind, you
could say, into the bottles. To high pressure. And they, the Strandbeests
can use this energy when the wind is gone. They can walk on that energy, because, if you connect a bottle
with a pump like this, this jumps out. In fact, what you’ve
created here is a muscle. A muscle is nothing but an
object which becomes longer or shorter on command. And the command is given by
a valve, which opens here. If the valve opens, this jumps out. And the valve, you could
see as a nerve cell. I have a nerve cell, here. This is a nerve cell. And I would like to demonstrate this. So, if I blow air in here. (hissing exhalations) The air goes in here,
and comes out at here. But, if I push in this piston here, it’s blocked. So this is a valve, open, closed. This, so this is, you could
see this as a nerve cell. Which, if it opens, then
the muscle is stretched. If it closes, it comes back. Well, usually, I have an
elastic attached to it, which pulls it back. Now, these nerve cells,
you can regulate by a sort of, also muscle, like this. (hissing and popping) I hope you all can see it. This is quite, can you see it in the back? So if I blow air in
here, the valve closes. And no air comes out of here. So, if you see this as the input, and this as the output, then the output is
opposite from the input. Everybody says okay. Yes, output and input,
I know what that is. I will say, I wanna make
it very clear to you, if you see this as a person, this is a person, and this is the mouth, and this is the ear, the mouth says the opposite
from what it hears. So, if it hears there’s air, the mouth says “no, there’s no air”. And that’s why I call this a liar. It says the opposite from what it hears. (laughter) Now, imagine, we gonna
do an experiment now, let me see, imagine that you are a liar. And you are a liar. And I’m a liar. So I say “yes” to you, so you hear “yes”. You are a liar, what would you say to her? (unintelligible response) (laughter) It’s not easy for you to lie, I guess. Well, as a good liar,
you should hear “yes” and you say “no” to her. You hear “no”; what do you say to me? – [Woman In Audience] Yes. – And I hear “yes”, and I say “no”. So in this conversation of three liars, I changed my opinion. That’s what you have with
an uneven number of liars, you keep changing your opinion, and you have a so-called dynamic system. (laughter) There’s two liars, you
have a static system. You keep saying the same thing. But with three liars, you
have a dynamic system. And I have three liars here. So, this is you. This is you. And this is me. And let’s see what the liars
have to tell to each other. (mechanical clicking) So they’re saying “yes”
and “no”, like we did. And as you know, you
can see a “yes” as a one and a “no” as a zero. In fact, what you can do with these liars is to switch zeros and ones,
just like in a computer. And in fact, what you
see here is the beginning of the brain of the Strandbeests. So they can take their positions. So I have this dream that these animals are migration animals. Let’s say that there’s a
beast standing in Kijkduin, this little village, along
the coast I was born, and the wind is southwest,
it walks over the hard part of the beach, along the coast, which is, because the wind is parallel to the coast, and it goes to Scheveningen,
that’s another town. It goes, with it’s ski poles,
which are driven by pneumatics in these bottles, on the soft sands, and it waits until the wind
has turned 180 degrees. It might take a few weeks, but these animals are incredibly patient. They don’t care about time. They just wait until
the wind is northeast, then they go with the ski
poles, to the hard sand again, catch up the winds, and
walk back to Kijkduin. So I see them as migration animals. And I want them to do this
one day, on their own. So they have to take their own decision, to know when the wind is southwest, they have to go to Scheveningen,
they have step counters. So a step counter is nothing but a pump, which is connected to the legs, which pumps, with every step,
it pumps a little bit air into a bottle, so the pressure
will increase while walking, and once the pressure
exceeds a certain level, it knows it has arrived in Scheveningen, so it goes, with its ski sticks, on the soft sands and waits again. That’s the idea. Of course, they need senses. And they need to feel the winds, how strong the wind is,
the direction of the wind. They also feel the hardness of the sand. This is a sand-feeler. Well, it used to be, a sand-feeler. So, there are two pins here. As soon as it, it beats on soft sand, then nothing will happen. But on hard sand, this is pushed up, and then they know they
are closer to the sea. So this is how they navigate. You must imagine that, as
animals, they are blind and they are deaf, and they
don’t know where they are on the beach; they
can’t even hear the sea, so they don’t know
which direction that is. So this is how they can,
more or less, find out. And based on the other information, the brains have to take
the decision to what to do. To decide to go to the hard sand or not, to wait, all these kind of things, they have to decide on their own. And so they also need a water-feeler. This is the water-feeler. Now, this tube, this hose,
it goes over the ground to about this height, and it
sucks in air all the time. So, (sucking inhalations). And then it arrives to the sea, and it swallows the water,
and feels the resistance of the water, and then
something else has to happen, otherwise the animal’s gonna drown, so they have to, a nerve
cell has to switch over, and then they have to use their ski poles to run as fast as they
can, out of the sea again. Now, we gonna try the
water-feeler right now, here. We need a very brave person. I know a very brave person;
he is sitting over there. Opp is a brave person, right? Opp, would you come and help me? (applause) Yes. Will you hold this? – Ah, yeah, I think I can. Okay. And so, what I’m gonna do is, I have a bottle of water somewhere. It’s here, yeah. So this is the sea, and
I’m gonna put the hose into the water, and it should
happen, something, there. I think I’m gonna put the liars on it, so as soon as the hose goes in here, you should hear the liars rattling. Saying “yes” and “no”. Are you okay? – [Opp] Yeah, so far. – So far, so good. Where are the liars? There. – [Opp] That’s it, yes. (muttering) (laughter) – So, we’re gonna connect it somewhere. Here. So, let me see. – These are the liars, here? – Those are the liars, and I have to do… Yes? Okay. Now, Opp, I don’t want you to get hurt. (laughter) – Alright. – You’re brave enough. And so, I’m going to open the valve, now, and it starts moving in your hand. So, and then I’ll look
for my, the sea, here. So, all ready, all set now? (laughter) Okay, here we go. (mechanical clicking) Oh, it’s already feeling
water, and it shouldn’t. So now it comes to the sea. Here it comes. (quick rattling) And it felt the water. (laughter) We try to do this again. (quick rattling) Yes. (laughter) Okay, Opp. – Fantastic. – Well done. (applause) So, usually I start
building a beast in October. So I just started. And then, I bring it
to the beach in spring. During the summer, I do
all kind of experiments with either the sand or the storms. And then comes the fall, and
I declare the animal extinct. It’s dead, and I don’t
wanna work on it anymore. And since a few years,
and these animals go to, used to go to a boneyard,
but since a few years, these animals are adopted in exhibitions. So these exhibitions, they’re
all fossils of animals, and you can see the evolutionary
development on the fossils. And we can reanimate these
fossils by pumping them up with a compressor. We pump up air into the soda bottles, and then the animal walks into the museum. And I’m so happy that we
are having a tour now, going on in the United States. So it started in Salem until January, then it goes to Chicago. That’s, Chicago is closer, right? The Cultural Center in Chicago. Ever heard of that? And then it goes to San Francisco, that’s a little bit further again, so. And these exhibitions,
they travel in the world. So the animals, they travel
in shipping containers. To these exhibitions. So I’m working now on number 38, animal. And it’s, it has a sort of trunk. Just like an elephant. And I’m trying to do a new
prevention of blowing away. Instead of the hammer, they just put sand, with the trunk, on a sort of
plate to make it very heavy. And hopefully, next
summer, they will survive the storms better, because the storms are always the big enemy of the beasts. So, I don’t know how far I am. Is it time for questions already? Yes? Questions? Okay. – [Man In Audience] So
it seems like you’re, in your design, the joint,
that first joint that’s mobile, using the existing materials, was, is that like a bottleneck,
originally, in doing this? – The joints, the bottle? – I mean, was there a bottleneck? I mean, was that one of the
first things you had to overcome is figure out how to make the joints work with the PVC tubing? – Yes, what, I ah, so you have different
sizes of this tubing. – [Man In Audience] So you have
right angles and everything? – Yeah, you have right
angles, but I don’t use that. I heat it, and, ah, I don’t have joints here, right? No. So, I make a sort of heated,
sort of hook at the end, and then I put a ring, also
made of this kind of tube, and then it just can go over another tube. Now, in the beginning, always
the sand was a big problem, because the sand creeps into the joints, and so the shape wasn’t
a way that it would work, the sand, a little bit to
the side, in the beginning. And since a few years, they
have a sort of sweat system that there are little sweat glands, so little holes, in fact, in the tube, and before they start walking, they first sweat out the sand. So they wash out the sand of the joints, and I put a little bit soap in there, just to lubricate it a little bit more. And in the future, of course, when they have to live alone, they have to just use
rainwater to do this. And so they walk a lot
better with the sweat system. You could say. You have a question? – Yes. Can you talk about the wings,
the sails, a little bit? What materials you used? And I noticed that, in
the picture slideshow, at the beginning, there was one that, in the video, there was
one that opened itself up and closed itself up, the wings. Can you talk about that a little bit? – Yeah, yeah. So, the sails, in the beginning, I made them all of cellotape. So I just, with cellotape, you can make a rope in there, and then, but it was a lot of work. And then, I noticed that
you could just use these Dacron sails, which are used for kites and for sailboats, as well, spinnakers. And there was somebody
who could make it for me with tunnels in there. And the way, they’re quite resistant for weather circumstances,
so they, they start white, and then in the years, they
become a little bit, ah, more natural, I would
say; a little bit gray. They have a sort of, you
call it “reefing” to sails, when it’s very stormy on a boat. That you reef the sails, make it smaller. Now, there are pumps, which are connected with the end of the
sail, and they pull in. And as soon as, so, the
sails are pulled in, and then, if you put air in there, all the pumps stretch, and then you see the sails coming out, and
then they catch the wind, and then they start waving. So it’s all based, in fact, on pneumatics. And with this kind of
tube, you can also make very long pumps, of four meters long, and it jumps out another four meters. So you get something that
starts with four meters length, and then is eight meters. So you can also make a sort of tongue, which goes over the ground
and can feel the water, more in the sea, as well. Okay. Was this, yeah, this was an
answer to your question, yes? Hello? – Hi, I was wondering, so you have built, or worked on machines that
react to natural elements, like wind and thick sand and water. Have you thought about
making beasts that react to other creatures, like humans? Like urban beasts, or cosmopolitan beasts? (laughter) – Well, of course, if
I had two more lives, I would love to do that,
to have desert beasts, and all those kinds of beasts. But I only have,
hopefully, 20 years to go. And so I restrict myself to
the beach, where I was born. So, apart from life in general, it’s also about my private life. That it was the first
acquaintance with life, was on that beach. And so, that’s also the
beach where I want to end. And so the beasts have to
live on that particular beach. Now, you said something. Ah, that was not your question, was it? Or was it? No, anyway it comes up later, maybe. I was thinking of something
very interesting, by the way. (laughter) – In the video, you, ah,
there was an image of you pulling one of them, and it didn’t look like it was made out of the pipes. So I was just wondering,
what was the story behind that one, because it was massive. Like, it was much bigger than those ones. – Oh, yes, that one. Yes. So, yes, I usually, I work with the tubes, and so I have been quite
faithful to the tubes for many years, but there was one year, (laughter) that I wanted to make a very big animal, and it turned out that steel
is a good material for that. So this was an animal of
almost five meters high. And you could sit in there. And it was covered with polyester. It was, had a polyester skin. And it was more than three tons. 3.2 tons. And it walked quite well on the wind. We tried it on a runway of an airport, and in fact, it run too fast on the wind. It broke itself. (laughter) And it’s now in Amsterdam. It’s standing in the street. And I had this dream that these animals would walk on the dam in Amsterdam. So just like the bulls
in Pamplona, it would, the bulls are out in the streets. (laughter) And the beasts would be out in Amsterdam. But, until now, I didn’t
succeed doing that. Maybe later. Hello. – Why did you start making Strandbeests? – Why? That’s a very good question. Because I, I don’t know why. (laughter) I did it. It’s something, well, why, it suggests that there’s
a reason you do something. And, in fact, there is no reason. Life doesn’t have a reason. We are, we have no reason to be here. But I must admit, it’s fun; it’s nice. (laughter) And I see it as a big
miracle that we exist. It’s, especially right on
the beach, under the clouds. And I see it as a wonderful
miracle that we are here. Especially, I’m so
surprised that I’m here. ‘Cause I suppose that you owe experience, it’s that the fact that we are
here is such a special thing, but it doesn’t have any reason. It’s not good for anything. It’s, apart from just being part of it. And it’s, ah, maybe I, looking backwards, I could say that I tried
to make new forms of life to become wiser about the
existing forms of life. And so, I have at least the illusion that I became wiser, and I’ve
wrote stories about that. In a book, a thick book,
called The Great Pretender. That’s me. And so, I think I became wiser. So, this was quite a
negative answer, right? (laughter) But I didn’t, to make it more positive, I became wiser, yeah. (laughter) – You were talking about
how some of the beasts know how to sense the weather,
from when it’s gonna storm to, you know, post themselves down. I was just wondering if there’s
a mechanism like the cells that help you realize that
the weather’s coming, or? – Well, I was thinking of a barometer. Because you can make a
barometer with these bottles. So they can measure the
pressure with a line, with water in there. So if the pressure would be low, then the water would raise in the tube, and then, with a water-feeler, you could feel the water, which is rising. So they could warn, for
at the low pressure, and warn for a storm, so they
can take their precautions. – This is wonderful. Because you walk your beasts by the ocean, and the ocean can blow lots of driftwood and things up onto the
beach, you have two choices: you either clean the beach
or you make your beast smarter so it can step over things. So are you thinking of
trying to get things to step over, so you’d have to come up with different mechanisms? – Yes. Well, of course you have,
apart from driftwood, you have other objects, like holes in the, and little lakes, and sometimes
they have this struggle, to walk over that, but that’s
why they have the ski poles. So they have pumps, which are on the hip, front hip, and they all stretch together. There are seven of those. And they just can jump over, more or less. Also, they can walk on
the very fluffy sand, and so they have the ski
poles to overcome that. Of course, it would be nicer if they would clean the beach, right? (laughter) But, I, ah, well, I will be working on that. (laughter) – I know you said you started painting, and once you got a taste for
this, you moved on, of course. Do you still paint? – No. I don’t paint. I’m sorry to say,
because I loved painting. And indeed, if I had, you know, indeed, more lives, I would be a painter. So, I would like to be a poet, as well. And there are so many things we wanna do. But you have to make your choices. And I love painting,
still, but I have no time. – Do you think you’ll
ever try a swimming beast? – Yes, that’s a good idea. Because, there were swimming beasts. It was, sort of, the worm family. I didn’t show it yet,
but they had bottles. Under each side was a worm,
which could move like a worm. And it could persist in its movement and sort of swim, there, but they didn’t walk very well on sand. So you have either animals
which are afraid of water, or animals who love the water. And these were water-loving animals, but they hated the sand. And so I have that part of evolution branch, it just stopped. Maybe it’s come up again. In the, also in the museum, in Salem, you can see the family
tree of the evolution, and you see a branch there, the worms. And it just stopped. (laughter) – What’s your relationship
to these beasts? Are they, like, friends, or children, or something else, entirely? – Well, you would think that, of course, that after you’re working
with this lovely material and these lovely beasts, that
you get a sort of friendship, but the answer is no. (laughter) I see them as mechanisms,
and I love the mechanism, but it’s a totally
different kind of feeling which I have with my girl specimen, with my family, and it’s much, I don’t recognize a
person in this mechanism. Of course I love those beasts, and I see them as my mental children. So you have your physical children, from below, and these are my
mental children, from above. (laughter) And there comes a day that
you put your physical children on the streets, and you say: you have to do it on your own. And that’s what’s gonna happen with the mental children, as well. But I don’t care if, I
would care a lot more if my own children would have
problems, than these animals. (laughter) – What is the most frustrating part, during the whole creation? How did you overcome it? – Yes. Well, you notice maybe that
there is a lot of failure, in the beasts. It’s a lot of disappointments. You have to encounter with. But it seems, if you have
so many disappointments, that you don’t care, after a while, that it doesn’t, it doesn’t work. And in fact, I was, a few months ago, I was in Nagasaki, where
I saw the first animal which I made, 25 years ago, and it could only move its
legs, laying on its back. It couldn’t even stand on its feet. It had a very complicated leg system, and it looks quite pathetic. (laughter) But when I was working
at it, 25 years ago, I didn’t see that. I just saw what it was going, in fact, I saw that whole thing, in front of me. And so, I didn’t care if I
had a reason to believe in it. I just was optimistic without reason. And that’s something which is, ah, a form of naivety, maybe. But, it brought me somewhere,
just to keep on believing, even if there’s no
reason to believe in it. And it, what I think this is my, I have it from my mother,
to be optimistic always. I remember that, that messages
of they came to our house, and then she always turn it in a way that it was a positive message. And that’s how, fooling
yourself a little bit, but it brings you further down,
being pessimistic, I think. – Hi, thank you so much for coming. This is really interesting. I have a question about
the legs, themselves. You’re basically using linear elements to approximate the motion of a wheel, which nature has never really evolved. And there are different ways
to put that linkage together. You can do it with six
elements or 12 elements, or, more or less, so I was
wondering if that was part of your original program,
or if you just manipulated the lengths, and why you
settled on the number of linkages that you used? – Yeah, ah, I just manipulated
the length, you could say. But in fact, this is a new wheel. Because a wheel stays on
the same level, as well, and so this has the
same quality as a wheel. The only thing is, you
have legs, which leap over. If you have a wheel on the beach, it has to touch every point of the path. So it has to deform the sand
on all the points of the path, and legs, they just jump over. And they leap over pieces of the path, so that has less resistance
than a wheel on soft sands. So that’s why the leg system
is better than the wheels. And of course, indeed, the
wheels are not invented by evolution, and there are
many theories about that, and of course, a wheel is a
wonderful invention of us. And it works, still, quite
well, after 5,000 years. But after 5,000 years,
also, we have a new wheel. And that’s their leg system. Still more questions, eh? Ah, it’s so funny. – Scheveningen is one
of my favorite beaches. – Oh, really? – Yeah, and I loved this presentation, but I’m very curious how
long some of these live, alone on the beach? And how, has any one of
them ever wandered off and sort of had a mind of its own? – Well, ah, I’m talking about these
beasts as if they’re almost ready to go, but they cannot
do without me for five minutes. (laughter) So, I have to nurse them
all the time, still. But I hope to stretch
the period that they, and they’re getting better and better. Because in the beginning they
couldn’t do without me at all. And what was your second question? – [Woman In Audience]
Has anyone wandered off? – Oh yeah! Well, I had, sometimes,
that’s what you have, sometimes, on Dutch beaches, you have a, totally wind silence, and then there comes a five-minute storm. So I had a herd on the beach, and then the five-minute storm, the whole herd was rolling on the beach. Just a mile down there, and
then I had to pick them all up. But of course, it’s PVC,
I should be careful. It’s pollution. So, when they’re in the sea,
I have to run into the sea to get them out, and so I have
to save them always, yeah. But, mark my words, there comes a day, before I die, that these
animals are going to live. We have a few more questions, yes? – You talked about, like, the lifecycle, where you, you know, build
them over the winter, and then they walk in
the spring and summer, and they’re off to the boneyard. Has the whole 25 years been just, kind of, linear and incremental, or
has there been occasional, like, flash, and then you made, like, a great leap
forward in improvements? – Yes, it’s not going,
it’s not easy going, no. So, it’s going in really big jumps, and for a long time, nothing happens. Sometimes I use old animals,
to take all the legs off, and use it for a new animal,
so it’s not very consequence, this cycle of every
year, because otherwise, I couldn’t work on the 38th animal, because then it would have been 38 years. So sometimes I do a little bit more, smaller animals, bigger animals. But the last few years,
it’s about every year. One animal. – We’ll make these the last two. – The last two, yeah. – I find it very interesting
how you talk about these as animals, and you
refer to them continually as if they’re alive, and
I wonder if you could just explain a little bit
more about your philosophy on the definition of “life”,
and this kind of evolution towards zeros and ones and
reproduction through us, that you’ve been talking about. – Yes, well, of course, these, what helps very much in the reproduction of the Strandbeests was
the coming of the internet. Especially the coming of YouTube. And that’s, because you
don’t need very much time to see what’s happening, when
you see an animal walking on YouTube, and we seem
to be very sensitive for this movement of animals. Because in evolution, an
animal could mean something to run away for, or something to eat, so our retina is very sensitive
for that kind of movement. And when you see it on YouTube,
you see an animal walking, but you also see just a bunch of tubes. And that somehow turns
a switch in our brain. And that’s happening to almost everybody. When they see 10 seconds
of Strandbeest walking, they have this switch turning over. That’s why the meme of Strandbeests, I hope you know, ah, the term “meme” means
something like a gene, but something, a gene
which jumps from one brain to another brain, so it’s
multiplying through brains. And this meme of the
Strandbeest, they are multiplying so well, because of the
internet and so they, the meme goes from brain to brain, and so you tell it to your neighbor, and they look at the internet, and so that’s how the
Strandbeest, hopefully, they will stay for a while
in the brains of you. Maybe there comes a moment
that we all have forgotten about the Strandbeest,
but my hope is, in fact, that when these animals
are walking on the beach, and I leave the planet, that
some students take over. And they continue my work. So there are a lot of students here, and I hope that this is going to, this meme is really getting
roots in their brain. Yes? – I notice that some of your constructions are very large and very complex. Do you work alone, or do you have a team that helps you with the
construction, or even the design? – Well, I usually work alone. But, sometimes I need help
of people on the beach. Because these very big animals, they, I cannot handle on my own, anymore. So I need people. Nowadays, I build something behind my car so I can bring it back, when
it has been walking away. And there’s a person
who is, when I’m working on the beach, there’s a person
in my winter working place, and he makes parts. So I have help, of people who
produce just the regular parts which come back all the time. And so, making the walking units, which don’t change that much, anymore. And so, there are some parts
are the end of evolution. And so they reproduce those parts. Somebody sitting there, still, or? (audience muttering) Okay. So we are at the end? Well, thank you ladies and
gentlemen, for listening. (applause) (unintelligible) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. – But, by way of closing, I would say that some of the words
that kept coming up: barometer, evolution, DNA, miracle, life, wisdom, fun, switching the, ah, switch that turned on. You’ve given us a thoroughly delightful and instructive afternoon,
and you’ve turned on all these switches in our minds. Thank you so much. – You’re welcome. (applause) Thank you very much. Thank you. So much fun to do this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *