Monday, March 3, 2008

This Is Beauty

Theo Jansen's kinetic sculptures:

Here's a clip of a talk he gave for TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design).

Theo Jansen is an engineer who produces the most astonishingly beautiful "creatures": ambulatory and wholly wind-powered, they possess the most rudimentary self-preservation abilities. Through ingenious design and cunning craftsmanship, they glide about on many cycling limbs and are able to respond (in a limited way) to changes in their environment — such as the encroaching high tide or an approaching storm. All this without the use of electronics or a guiding computer. Well, no "computer" in the popular sense of the word. Actually, any device which exhibits the proper computational functionality should indeed be considered a computer; so it is perfectly accurate to say that Jansen's automata are guided by computers, albeit very simple ones. See, for example, the latter of the above videos, where he describes a mechanism which monitors the automaton's distance from the sea — the device counts in binary, just as an electronic computer does.

I must confess to feeling some perhaps foolish sentiments regarding these automata. I want them to "live" as though they were cells, somehow. Perhaps not fulfilling the ten biological criteria for life, but I want to see them developed so that they can better guide themselves, perhaps repair and sustain themselves. I find their spindly-yet-graceful movements so wondrously, eerily beautiful — perhaps all the more so knowing that it is the wind which propels them.

They consume so little and they are more or less harmless; they are gently mesmeric and captivating in their geometric splendor.

I want to see colonies of them deployed onto an otherwise barren planet, where they could simply exist and wander about, free from potential biological scavengers/predators. They would still have to contend with the corrosion of the elements — perhaps it would be possible for them to reproduce, to some degree? I don't even need to see them there, I just want to know that they are out there, exhibiting life-like behavior while powered so clearly by a non-living source. Perhaps extraterrestrials or some distant descendants of the human race would eventually find, marvel at, and speculate about them in curious awe.

Forgive me, for I am but an uneducated philistine in the realm of art; yet I cannot help but pronounce that Theo Jansen must be one of the great artists of our time.

Cyanosarchina Sp.
from Cyanosite Image Gallery

No comments:

Post a Comment