– Summer 2014

Panamarenko: Love and Rockets

Jeremy Millar

Panamarenko, model for Das Flugzeug, 1967, metal frame, pedals, leather, expandable polystyrene, paper and wingspan

For over fifty years, Panamarenko has made works at once elegant and ludicrous, naïve and sophisticated, seductive and self-absorbed. Theoretical physics is combined with basic workshop welding, rockets with pedal-power, and if they seem to offer an escape, it is not one which the artist himself ever took up. He was born Henri Van Herwegen in the north Belgian city of Antwerp in 1940, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. The port which gave Antwerp its wealth — during the sixteenth century, it was the richest city 
in Europe — also gave it immense strategic importance during the conflict. After its liberation by the British Army in September 1944, the Germans attempted to destroy the facility and so break a vital supply line.

In the months that followed, more V-2 rockets fell on the city than on all other targets in the war combined; their relative inaccuracy meant that the port remained in use, although the destruction visited upon the rest of the city — and its population — was immense.

‘Rebuilt in the modern style’: for the city, this may have been a necessity, but for some of its inhabitants, it was a very welcome choice. Van Herwegen began attending the Royal Academy of Fine Arts while in his

  1. Interview with Yves Aupetitallot, Anny De Decker and Bernd Lohaus in Y. Aupetitallot (ed.), Wide White Space 1966—1976, Düsseldorf: Richter Verlag, 1995, p.23.

  2. See Hugo Heyrman’s website: http://www.doctorhugo.org/happening_news.html (last accessed on 19 March 2014).

  3. Alfred Jarry, ‘How to Construct a Time Machine’ (1899, trans. Roger Shattuck), in R. Shattuck and Simon Watson Taylor (ed.), Selected Works of Alfred Jarry, New York: Grove Press, pp.114—21.

  4. Henri Bergson, ‘Laughter’, in Wylie Sypher (ed.), Comedy, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980, p.84.

  5. See Michel Carrouges, Les machines célibataires, Paris: Arcanes, 1954.