Opening: Saturday 18 January, 2020. 2 – 8 pm
Exhibition: 18.01 – 29.03.2020
KETELEER GALLERY is very pleased to present a Panamarenko solo exhibition at the new gallery space BREMDONCK in the Peerdsbos forest of Brasschaat, with an overview of historical works from 1984 to 2005, in honour of what would have been the artist’s 80th birthday.
Panamarenko (°1940, Antwerp), who died on December 14th, 2019, was an extraordinary, inimitable artist within the Belgian and international art scene. Henri Van Herwegen, Panamarenko’s given name, derived his mysteriously sounding artist name from a Russian general whose name he heard in 1958 over his self-made transistor radio on which he was able to receive a Potsdam (then part of the DDR) radio station. He thought the name sounded good and from 1965 it became his permanent pseudonym.
As an artist, – engineer, – physicist, – inventor and – visionary, Panamarenko conducted exceptional research into fields such as space, movement, flight and gravity. His work is a combination of artistic and technological experiments, an attitude he undoubtedly inherited from his architect father, and takes on various forms: airplanes, balloons, submarines, cars, flying carpets, birds … each time spectacular constructions of unconventional beauty, at the same playful and impressive.
Panamarenko is also known for the fact that his contraptions usually don’t work. It is the dream of flying, diving,… that we are looking at and steals the spotlight. The experiment matters more than the result. His Donnariet (2003) submarine, for example (of which various preliminary sketches are shown here), can’t really dive, it’s more an underwater pedalo which is powered by pedalling with your feet. Similar is the work Scuba (2005), a lithograph of the preliminary study he made for Large Elbow (Razmo Special) ( 1997), a deep-sea diving device which is also activated by human power: a propeller attached to the waist powered by pedals at the feet. Panamarenko’s inventions are often a combination of mechanics and the use of human or nature’s forces.
Panamarenko’s works are an example of an immeasurable fascination for the design process, a fanatic an inspired exploration of what is possible. The work Turbo Jet Aladin (1987) is one of the many Pastille Motors he worked on. This was a series of round, flat fans ( which reminded him of aspirins, a ‘pastille’) with floating baffles, test models of drive mechanisms for his Rucksackflugs. These backpack aircrafts are part of his Portable Air Transport (P.A.T.) theme which he worked on since 1969. The Pastille Motors were one of the many steps in his research into flying as efficiently as possible, with as little fuel consumption as possible, a reaction to NASA’s wasteful design. The name Aladin refers to the nozzle on top of the fan that reminded Panamarenko of the magical lamp of Aladin from the One Thousand and One Night stories. The Reis Naar de Sterren II (journey to the stars) (1985) edition is a preliminary study for the Trompetjet (1985), a backpack aircraft equipped with two wide exhaust pipes, driven by a large motor and two pastille motors. The Batopillo (2005) statue (on view at the Melkerij Peerdsbos site) is also a continuation on the P.A.T. theme, the original is located at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, The Netherlands. With the Batapillo, the backpack is no longer powered by a Pastille Motor but by a “flapping propeller”. With a remote control in hand, you control the engine for the “flappers” and you have to steer by moving your body. An elegant, precise agility.
Every possible way a person can “fly” – over land, under water, in the sky and in outer space – is Panamarenko’s best known, though not only, subject and is the first thing to come to mind when we hear or read his name. Aeromodeller (1969 -71) which appeared in The Collection (1) | Highlights for a Future exhibition at the M.S.K., Ghent, was probably the most impressive example of this.
Smaller, but no less poetic, airships such as the Aeromodeller (1984) which is part of this exhibition, emerge throughout his entire oeuvre and stem from the 1968 manifesto by the “Vrije Aktie Groep Antwerpen” (free action group Antwerp) of which the artist was a member. On the Conscienceplein (a square in front of the Hendrik Conscience church) of Antwerp they proposed the utopian plan for a “reserve” in which the residents would, among other things, build zeppelins allowing them to fly around freely, and in a completely safe way, Panamarenko added: filled with helium instead of hydrogen.
With his flying saucers and magnetic spaceships, Panamarenko pushed the boundary of improbability even more. From 1976, he became fascinated by the infamous stories that circulated about people who claimed they saw UFOs and had come into contact with extra-terrestrials. He started designing a whole series of saucers that would be able to fly with the use of magnetic force fields, as well as a number of devices that would travel through space on magnetic “cosmic motorways”. The triptych Flying Tiger, Flying Cigar (1981) is a study for a three-part magnetic spaceship of more than 800 meters long and 170 meters width consisting of elongated copper magnetic coils whose poles repel each other in order to achieve a new steering force as well as an enormous speed. “Flying tiger” refers to the speed and “flying cigar” is a term used in UFO legends to refer to the mothership.
Eiland (island) (2004) is a more recent work, a model for a “flying machine with air cushion” which the artist also made in full size. The round plane is something in between a helicopter, a zeppelin and a flying saucer: a large platform designed to hover horizontally above the ground requiring no fuel and able to carry 3 passengers. A rotor, slightly larger than the platform, creates an air “curtain” around and under the platform which makes it float. Solar energy panels charge the batteries that drive the rotor. The weight of the batteries also serves as a counterweight to the passenger cabin. A typical example of Panamarenko’s ingeniously creative mind.
In 2005, after the retrospective exhibition Flying saucers and Devil Rowlers Motorcycle Club at the Royal Museum for Fine Arts Brussels, Panamarenko stopped making art to live in a quieter way with his wife Evilen at their farmhouse in Michelbeke. Bobby’s Carpet (2005), on view in the gallery in Pourbusstraat 3-5, Antwerp, was also ‘designed’ with this place in mind. When Mark Deweer from DEWEER Gallery asked Panamarenko to partcipate in their Art of the Loom project, he wanted to create a practical carpet, not an “art carpet”. Large enough so that he wouldn’t have to finish the floor and at the same time a place for his dog Bobby to lie on and scratch when bored. The image is an enlargement of the poster of his solo exhibition at S.M.A.K., Ghent in 2001.
Panamarenko’s oeuvre is a laudable homage to human fantasy and ingenuity. Inspired by Joseph Beuys’ view on art, he refused to define “art” in a determined way, it’s the terrain that can (or should) always be in motion.
Lauren Wiggers, 2020.