This is just for fun under the heading of “The Absurd.” If you visited the spectacular galleries on the fourth floor of the Cultural Center (the exhibit ended May 1) you experienced a show that was architectural, outrageous, scientific, robotic, mechanical, hand-crafted and perfectly worthless, but perfect for all you pragmatic dreamers. 

Yes you could waste an hour and come away with nothing after visiting this show — except priming for a summer outing and a ton of fun. The density of magic to stimulate your imagination was a must-see. I’ve provided a few photos to give you some idea (and maybe some ideas when you go to the beach).

Theo Jansen, a Dutch artist, has been developing these “beach creatures” for the last 25 years. 

Orville and Wilbur Wright would be oh-so-proud of these experimental sand-walking machines. 

Propelled by wind, like the Wright Brothers’ early flying machines, the airstream is more reliable than other energy choices. For them to move under their own power, weight must be minimal. To satisfy that condition, Mr. Jansen chose PVC tubing and zip ties for its light weight, relative to its strength. These kinetic structures are not perpetual-motion-machines yet strive to be by converting wind power into mechanical force.

The artist was first inspired by his native Dutch seacoast, envisioning a machine to address the persistent treat of rising sea levels. The idea evolved into machines to store wind energy and mechanisms to pile sand back up on the dunes. The Strand Beests have become designs focused on exploring the origins of life. To see one of these odd skeletal forms move, produces a live image that is both comical and as sophisticated as a robotic. 

On the edge between fiction and reality, these imagined and constructed forms are thought of as prehistoric and futuristic at once. The dream machines have the compelling power to engage any and everyone. Once the “beast” started walking on its 13 legs, I was smitten. Knowing you have just experienced something without precedent is exhilarating. The show was organized to personally encourage anyone to handle the ships on a test run. 

Great fun!

Several of the beasts were simply on display, immobile, in this classical hall with dramatic lighting. Two large flat screens expand the exhibit, showing the handling of a variety of machines on the beach under natural conditions. The surrealistic mechanisms, when moving, appear to be alive, beautifully in counterpoint to the sky and the sand.

The dream machines were a once-in-a-lifetime experience that touched on the fourth dimension. The show was enjoyable and appropriate for children of all ages. The Beach Creatures were a blast!

Garret Eakin is an architect, journalist, and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute. 

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Garret Eakin

Garret Eakin is a practicing architect, preservation commissioner and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute.