'Umbilly 1' 1976

Location: Vide in Vertigo building, floor 1

Panamarenko (Antwerp, 1940) creates machines that look as if they could take off and fly away at any moment. However, most of them can't.

Before he actually transforms a design into a real object, Panamarenko makes countless blueprints and technical calculations. Whether scientist actually think these calculations are correct is not important to him. In fact, in an interview he gave in 2001 he expressed little liking for the world of science: "I don't want to spend all my life cramming away on Einstein, Zweistein or Dreistein. The only thing sensible is to create something beautiful."

'Umbilly I' (1976) is first displayed in a showcase at the department of Mechanical Engineering. There it draws sharp comments from the staff, who think it's a botch work that insults the technical sciences. For some years 'Umbilly I' wanders around the TU/e campus, before being given a fine place in the library of the department of Architectural Sciences. From there it finally moves to floor 1 of the Vertigo building.

Physical principles

Panamarenko's life-long fascination with flight begins in his early boyhood. Probably without realizing their evil purpose, he gazes at the V1 missiles which the Germans aim at his home city of Antwerp during the closing months of World War 2. But his interests range much wider than that. In the nineteen sixties he studies at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts. The artistic happenings which he later helps organize display his sense of humour and perspective: he plays the millionaire, the chauffeur or the airship engineer and he designs machines like a mechanical roof gutter and a water zeppelin.

The two Umbillies which Panamarenko builds are based on the moving mechanism of insects. 'Umbilly I' is the technically more advanced model. The name 'Umbilly' is derived from 'Umbillicus' and refers to the repeated interruption of the driving mechanism at each flap of the wing. According to Panamarenko this principle enables the movement of the rear wing to continue, even when the pedals are briefly not being pressed.

All Panamarenko's vehicles are based on existing physical principles. But he also invents new machines, like a spaceship that should be propelled by magnetic forces. 'De Blauwe Archaeoptrix' ('The Blue Archaeoptrix') is equipped with solar cells and an electronic brain that enable this primeval bird to learn from its mistakes.

TU/e was donated a scale model of 'Het Eiland' ('The Island'), Panamarenko's latest and perhaps last work of art. It is on display in the University Library.

Links Panamarenko, at TU/e:

Installatie 'Umbilly 1' op de TU/e; Installatie 'Umbilly 1'bij Bouwkunde

Boek 'The return of Umbilly I' (and click full text)

Links Panamarenko, general:

Photographs of Panamarenko's work

The historical image bank TU/e in the Picture includes some documentary films about life and work of Panamarenko. In the search bar of the image bank enter the terms Panamarenko and Film.