Panamarenko has dedicated his artistic explorations over the last thirty years to the relationship between technology and nature. Aiming to create a symbiosis between the arts and sciences, he has spent his entire career designing and fabricating contraptions which seek to explore this relationship. Over the years, he has created a variety of transport vehicles, including race cars and submarines; however, the most frequent mode of transportation he addressed was flight. While Panamarenko spends a great deal of his time studying physics, mechanics and technology in order to understand how these contraptions function, it is important to remember that his machines rarely work, or rarely work as initially intended. As Hans Theys has pointed out, 'Panamarenko does not aim at testing their validity - present day air traffic makes this superfluous and pointless -, but at experiencing them himself, really understanding them, or even at feeling why they are valid and how they work. This is why it is irrelevant whether his machines really function...' (H. Theys, Panamarenko&i, Brussels 1992, p. 21).
Panamarenko has been developing ideas for producing his own zeppelin since the mid-1960s. He revealed the drafts for the airship balloon for the first time at a happening in Antwerp in 1965.
Panamarenko created the Aeromodeller between 1969 and 1971, which he named after an English language journal for model airoplane builders.
In the summer of 1971, he took up the plan for the airship to take off from Balen (Belgium) and land in the Sonsbeek Park in Arnhem (The Netherlands) as the project was included in the major art show Sonsbeek buiten de perken.
On 26 June, around 11 a.m., the experiment started. Normally, it would have taken about two hours to inflate the balloon with 650,000 liters of hydrogen gas. Scores of assistants pulled and dragged against the wind to get the balloon above the gondola.
The cane gondola started deforming and tearing more and more with the passage of time. The fire danger had considerably increased. For reasons of safety, Panamarenko took a pair of scissors and cut a large tear in the balloon and the experiment turned into a countryside picnic. The event was recorded in a documentary film. The balloon was then put on exhibit during Documenta 5 (Kassel, 1972), where the balloon was fully inflated with air and presented as a work of art for the first time in an exhibition.
The Panama Aeromodeller I is one of the models for an airship. It consists of three parts:
1) a silver balloon with golden, black outlined letters forming the title 'PANAMA', a green star on blue and red background and white painted letters forming the second part of the title: 'Aeromodeller I'; 2) a copper-coloured gondola with red window-sills;
3) a construction with four red propellers and four green jerry cans, all placed above the gondola.
'My projects are not exactly ideas, nor dreams. It isn't a question of making a plane but of exactly producing something that is an ideal. It's enjoyable, even if I never actually fly it. For me, its success lies in the realization of the dream, and it's strangely tied to failure. If one is more scientific, more rational, one loses the ideal nature of the form, and the object becomes simply a demonstration, a functioning proof. I could say: "You are all mad for thinking that my objects cannot function because they are made by a naf." That isn't the problem: it's a miracle if the object works, but it would be even more perfect if it didn't. The objective is then completed within the strict confines of the dream'.(Panamarenko, quoted in L. Cooks' essay to accompany the exhibition: Panamarenko: Orbit, Dia Center, New York, November 2000-June 2001).