All the props for playing God go to doctors, scientists, and genetic engineers, but rarely do we credit an artist who has practically invented new forms of life using simple machines, everyday materials, and unmatched ingenuity. For his animal-like kinetic sculptures, Theo Jansen didn’t augment the human form or build on the template of anything remotely familiar to us. Instead, he started from scratch, with very basic moving parts that fit together in a way that they achieve the vestiges of living behavior. It’s spooky and beautiful all at once.
Jansen’s creations inspired the central character in David Lance’s The Future Forms Of Life, a mechanical being strolling through the park with a little assistance from a hooded, humanoid friend who soon disappears, leaving our protagonist alone to stroll through the urban landscape and even evolve. Eventually, it sheds some parts and grows new ones, becoming a sort of winged spider.
Soon, mecha-spider-bird is blasting around through city streets, narrowly avoiding accidents and yet managing to leave everyone in its path unscathed. We see hooded monk-man reappear, only to have the beast turn on him and fly off! Questions arise: Was this man the living spirit of the beast, which it shirked, escaping to a life of soullessness? Is the monk the human creator of a mechanical organism that turns on its creator a-la-Skynet? You’re still pondering this when the figure finally shows his face and drops this set of words: “Have you ever imagined how far your dreams are able to go?” Oh. Lyrics from a mid-to-late 90s trance song, perhaps? The video is still pretty sweet, and if this is your introduction to Jansen’s work, then it totally does the trick!
See one of Jansen’s beasts below.