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Intelligent beach animals with skeletons, muscles and brain-like control centres or intricately constructed hybrids of engineering and art? Whatever you call them, this February Melbourne's Federation Square will be home to Strandbeests, the product of the incredible imagination, perseverance and energy of Dutch artist Theo Jansen.
The Creations Strandbeests (literally beach animals in Dutch) are self-propelling structures made from stiff plastic tubing and plastic bottles. They look like a moving dinosaur skeleton and have a spine, legs, a "stomach" for storing air, and "muscles" (pistons within the tubing) for movement. These unlikely elements come together in a creation that draws power from the wind, enabling it to "walk". Mr Jansen likes to think of his creations as "new forms of life" and hopes to one day put his "animals" out in "herds" on beaches to "live their own lives". While Strandbeests are undoubtedly engineering marvels and quite beautiful in their fluid movement, I have to say that my reaction to that kind of vision is "What the ???".
The Artist and Venue
Strandbeests are presented as part of Federation Square's Creative Program. The program's aim is to "work with artists and creatives who can create provocative work that responds very specifically to the unique physical and social public environment that is Federation Square". It would seem that a partnership with the unorthodox Theo Jansen should produce a marriage made in heaven. Theo Jansen is the maverick who also brought Delft to a standstill in 1979 with a helium propelled "UFO", and who created a flying drill, suspended between buildings in the Hague. Don't ask me to explain - I suspect even Mr Jansen would have some trouble.
Theo Jansen's "Flying Drill
The Program You really must check out Strandbeests for yourself. Two Strandbeests will be on 24 hour display in St Paul's Court at Federation Square from Wednesday 1 February to Sunday 26 February, and best of all entry is free.
The enormous Animaris Umerus measures 12m by 4m by 2m. It will create a kinetic kerfuffle when it comes to life on weekdays at 10am, 12pm, 1pm, 4pm and 6pm, and on weekends at 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm and 8pm.
The smaller Animaris Ordis Mutantis comes in at 4m by 2m by 2m and will be available for playtime between 10am and 6pm on weekdays and 10am and 8pm on weekends. Play with the nearest thing to a dinosaur you'll ever see? You know you want to.
The Atrium will host an exhibition of Strandbeest "fossils", showing some of the previous Strandbeest incarnations. You can follow their evolution from simple structures to today's detailed and complex forms.
This is "Animaris Gubenare", Theo Jansen's last creation that, according to Mr Jansen, was "born" in October 2010 and "died" in October 2011. Is it too late to send flowers?