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Watch a Self-Powered Sculpture Stroll Through Millennium Park [Video]

By Joe Ward | February 4, 2016 3:57pm
 Dutch artist Theo Jansen shows off one of his
Dutch artist Theo Jansen shows off one of his "strandbeests" or "beach creatures" at Millennium Park Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

MILLENNIUM PARK — A new animal "species" has invaded Chicago. 

At least that's what its creator, Dutch artist Theo Jansen, is calling them.

Jansen brought one of his walking, wind-powered sculptures to Millennium Park Thursday in advance of an exhibition of the creations that opens Friday at the Chicago Cultural Center. 

The "strandbeests," as Jansen has named them, have become something of an international phenomenon after videos surfaced of the massive sculptures roaming European beaches without human intervention. The Chicago show, titled "Strandbeest: The Dream Machines Of Theo Jansen," is the first major American exhibition of the sculptures, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events said in a news release.

Made almost entirely of zipties and plastic piping that resembles bamboo shoots from afar, the strandbeests, or "beach creatures," are designed to walk themselves over a number of relatively flat surfaces, all powered by wind.

Ultimately, Jansen said he hopes the sculptures will be able to walk on their own on beaches where he frequently gives them test runs, just like any other animal might.

"When I leave this planet, I want to leave a new species for the world," Jansen said. "You could say it's a Utopian dream. They're getting better and better."

The strandbeest that was displayed near the Bean Thursday moved extremely fluidly, though it had to be pushed along because of a lack of wind. (Other designs have plastic bottles in their "stomachs" that can hold compressed air to be used when it is less windy, one of Jansen's aides said.)

The movement of the sculptures is hypnotic, especially if one pays attention to all the different, moving parts that help guide them.

"They are poetic in how they move," said Daniel Schulman, a program director for the department of cultural affairs. "They engage the public in a number of broad ways."

The sculptures are the perfect blend of art and science, Schulman said. An algorithm was developed that helps Jansen's team design sculptures that can walk. Jansen said he studied physics for seven years before turning to art.

"I wasn't a very good student," he said.

The Cultural Center will host a "STEAM" night — that's Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics — for school-age kids to learn about the project on Saturday.

Though there isn't any wind in the Cultural Center, Jansen's sculptures will go for a stroll in the exhibit. At certain times during the day, the center will put compressed air inside the sculptures to power them, Jansen said.

"They will come alive," he said.

The general public can check out the exhibit starting Friday at 5 p.m. at the Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. The exhibit will run through May 1 and is free to the public.

For more information on the exhibit, check out the Chicago Cultural Center website here.

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