I am awed and inspired by the work of Dutch artist Theo Jansen, who creates "sand beasts," kinetic sculptures that roam on the coast near his house in the Netherlands.
Jansen's sandbeesten remind me of this passage from Caspar Henderson's essay "Rereading The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges":
Such creatures, he writes, "remind us of what is beyond dream – the real forms of living creatures that exist without human agency....For we who live in the light of what paleontology, evolutionary biology and genetics are revealing about living forms, our response to the real may – will, if we are truly awake – be one of astonishment and wonder at life's inventiveness. Even ordinary-seeming animals are marvellous in the light of evolution: the chicken, for example, is the closest living relative of Tyrannosaurus rex. Extraordinary ones make those in the pages of a medieval bestiary seem poor indeed. Compared to the leafy sea dragon (a cousin of the seahorse that looks very much like seaweed and yet also like a dragon) and the sea slug Elysia chlorotica (which photosynthesises with genes stolen from the algae it eats, and is as green as a leaf), the mythical Barometz, or vegetable lamb of Tartary, is a dull affair.
"The contemplation of natural history allows us to marvel at our place in the universe. As Charles Darwin wrote early in his career, 'If, as the poets say, life is a dream, I am sure in a voyage these are the visions which serve best to pass away the long night.' "
(Casper Henderson is the author of The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary.)
The film below, "Strandbeest Evolution," shows numerous examples of the beasts as they've evolved since 1990, with the music of Khachaturian's Spartacus. (For a more in-depth look at the artist's creative process, listen to his 2007 TED talk here.)