Theo Jansen: Walking on the Mild Side

Theo Janssen, walking his rhinoceros

Perhaps walk isn’t quite the right word. March, perhaps. Or trek. Perhaps even creep would do, despite the word’s slightly passive connotation.

Whichever word you choose, watching Dutch artist Theo Jansen’s kinetic sculptures trundle across a beach is akin to witnessing some strange, primordial creature emerge from the mire and muck of a forgotten world and make tracks for higher ground.

His creations, called Strandbeests, or beach animals, are constructed from PVC pipe. Through a progression of refinements, including the addition of lemonade bottles, he’s helped them evolve into mobile, wind-powered creatures that seem filled with life. When first encountered, they astonish, compel, and amuse: scuttling over the landscape like giant, improbable crabs.
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Dazed and Confused

With more years behind me than I like to remember, startled into cyber-sensitivity by assorted encounters with a brave new world, I stand at the edge of the precipice: leaning, looking, listening for the voice that has lured me to this place.

What do I know of websites, blogs, html, css, pagemaker?  Not a thing.  Or, at least, so little that my friendly five-year-old neighbor could out-navigate me in any cybercontest.  When I look at a hyperlink, I hyperventilate.  When I hear the word “tag”, I think of a children’s game.  If any computer guru in the world begins a sentence with, “All you have to do is…”, I’ve already done a mental turn and am running for my life.  They mean well, and so do I.  It’s just that “intuitive” is not a word I associate with computers or their programs.

But I have things to say – words to write, metaphors to build, conclusions to draw, paragraphs to stack and reorder and move around to suit myself, and perhaps others.  Whether I like it or not, the day of the Number 2 pencil, or even the old, clunky Underwood, is over.   If I am to share my words and my vision, technology must become my friend.

Of course, friendship takes time.  It requires energy, and perseverance.   Friendship isn’t an afternoon project, a weekend diversion, a passing inclination for those times when nothing else piques interest.  Friendship is a commitment as well as a delight; it requires attentiveness and care.

I have far less time than I wish, and my energy can ebb, but I know attentiveness and perseverance.  Perseverance is making coffee at 2 a.m.  Perseverance is changing a title in order to attract more readers, and then changing it back because it is right.  Perseverance is continuing to listen for the voice that lures us to the edge of the precipice even when the voice falls silent. Perseverance is singing in the night, though all others may sleep – believing that the song will be heard.

The question no longer is: do you want to write?  For good or for ill, read or unread, poorly scribed or passionately sung, I will write.  At the edge of the precipice, a bit dazed, a good bit confused, I have made my commitment.  Let the perseverance begin.

Comments  always are welcome.