Jansen DVD mook

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Along with the release of the Rhino Mini-beest kit, Gakken also published the “DVD de miru teo yansen sutorantobiisto no sekai” mook (See the World of Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest by DVD), back on July, 2011. It’s one of the shorter mooks, at only 64 pages. With the list price of 1800 yen ($22 USD), it’s pricier than most people are willing to tolerate, especially after the import markup. Also, you can probably get the same video footage directly from Jansen’s website in English for less money. But the mook does go pretty in-depth on the wide variety of creatures Jansen has developed so far. And, if you are a fan of kinetic art, or of artificial weird lumbering creatures that have a mind of their own then you’ll definitely want this DVD mook for your collection.

(The Gakken Rhino Kit)

For those of you unfamiliar with him, Theo Jansen is a Dutch physicist/artist. In 1990, he started using PVC piping to make creatures, “beests”, that could be self-propelling. He lives near a very long stretch of sandy beach, and he’ll let his wind-powered beests roam around on their own. Several have mechanical sensors for detecting the edge of the water and turning around, and one has an “8-bit brain” made up of water-filled soda bottles. The key element in most cases is the so-called Jansen linkage, a combination of hinged pipes driven by a cam that can imitate a walking leg (in essence it’s like having a linear wheel). To date, Gakken has adapted Jansen’s designs to publish two Otona no Kagaku kits: the Animaris Ordis Parvus and the Rhino.

The mook is very photo heavy, which is both good and bad. It’s good in that you can see a lot of Jansen, and just about every beest that he’s designed from multiple angles, as well as his workshop and the process he goes through to make them. The downside is that since the beests are kinetic sculptures, you’re missing out on 90% of the artform if you can’t see them move. In static photos, they just look like a big jungle of yellow pipes and tubing. But, if you want to see the jigs and specialized tools he uses, the mook is a good reference guide. There’s also a 23-page biographic manga detailing Jansen’s beginnings as a kinetic artist and detailing the first real failure when one of the bigger beests completely collapsed on the beach in a wreck. Since then he’s been recognized as a creative inventor and has been featured in a TED broadcast.

The DVD is 45 minutes, broken up into 10 chapters and a special 10-minute interview (in English with Japanese subtitles). Some of the chapters are just visual montages of the beests with music backgrounds. In the others, if there is speaking, it’s in English. The chapters are:

1) Opening
A visual montage of the various beests

2) Walking the New Beest
Basically, footage of Jansen taking the Gubernare out to the beach

3) The Walking Mechanism
A demonstration of the Jansen linkage.

4) Strandbeest Evolution
A montage of every beest from the beginning to the end.

5) Wind Eater
A demonstration of a piston system for storing air pressure in 2-liter soda bottles for later use when the wind dies down.

6) Strange Tools
A video tour of Jansen’s workshop.

7) The Walking Beests on the Sandy Beach
More footage of beests.

8) Nerve Cell
A discussion of three air-driven piston switches in a mechanical version of a NOT gate, to allow logical decision making.

9) Beest’s Children
Footage of beests made by other people.

10) Animaris Gubernare Tryout
Taking the Guernare out on the beach for a trial walk.

(Sample page from the manga, highlighting one of the failures.)

Summary: I’d say that the mook is useful for learning the basic principles of making beests, and that the DVD is simply a great way to get inspired to make your own versions. I’m more of a craftsman than an artist, so for me, the idea of making a beest is to have something to show off at SF conventions. If you like making stuff, I recommend either getting the Gakken mook, or buying Jansen’s own DVD from his site.

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