‘Panamarenko and Psychoanalysis’ by Chris Oakley

Clearly Panamarenko has a stated desire to create works that offer more than a straightforward aesthetic elegance; his concern is to open doors to new forms and new types of experience. This is continuously underpinned by his relentless interest in individual freedom, however impossible it may prove, this dream of escaping the confines of our pathetic rationality (see for example his ‘Catapult Max’ (1977) where “nothing could stop you…it would be a really pleasurable thing… to be just like a grasshopper.” with no obstacle proving insurmountable.) Inevitably associated with altered states of consciousness, so crucially enmeshed in the psychoanalytic experience, one may note the Panamarenko hallmark: the motif of the peyote cactus, encircled by the words ‘Nailate Efil’, an inverted ‘Italian Life’ with it’s reference to ‘La Dolce Vita’. Precisely where the influencing machine, the psychoanalytic relationship, gestures towards: through altered states one is hopefully placed on the path of the ‘Good Life.’ Panamarenko is always already absorbed by the adventure beyond the object (“to make it fly is everything”). A particularly British Psychoanalytic culture, dubbed The Object Relations School, may concern itself with objects, all framed by the myth of interiority (Panamarenko always refers to his works as objects rather than sculptures), but perhaps we might more appropriately come to see that rather than ‘internal objects’ we all have objectives, desires or to return to the title of the day, flights of fancy. So once again we can glimpse an alignment of Panamarenko and Psychoanalysis, both immersed in that desire for voyaging, including, via reference to his exquisite submarine, that which goes beneath the surface, all conjoined with adventure and exploration. Here we might note that Psychoanalysis is simultaneously engaged in two divergent trajectories. In any exploration of a particular symptom there will be the principle associated with the archaeological: a desire to establish the origins, from where it began, a movement in the direction of birth. Simultaneously there will be a concern to analyse, to arrive at a final solution, to lay bare, exhaust meaning by having the last word: a trajectory towards death. So many of Panamarenko’s works engage in a similar paradox, almost shimmering with a congealed latency, suffused with embryonic potentiality, filibrating on the cusp of birth, an emergence, a lift off, whilst at the same time if not exactly dead, certainly inert, going nowhere.

Following Jon Thompson’s excellent curatorial essay we can trace out further sites of convergence. Firstly, that of invention. Indubitably Panamarenko aligns himself with the practice of artist as inventor, whilst the psychoanalyst takes up the role of, let us hope, whatever Freud might have had to say about it, the inventive suggestor. In his early days in Antwerp in Belgium where he was a seminal figure in the inauguration, in 1966, of’The Wide White Space’ Panamarenko and his co-conspirators saw this “gallery rather as a mental space.” Nothing prevents the thought that one can designate the locus of the psychoanalytic encounter as ‘the mental space’ between the analyst and analysand, indeed it has become a psychoanalytic cliché. Intriguingly Thompson invokes the phenomenologist Merleau Ponty with regard to this issue of invention, always already associated with expanded imagination, psychoanalysis as the potentiality of our being refracted through another logic, located within a tradition of adventure, exploration and discovery, the very modalities that saturate Panamarenko’s work. For Merleau Ponty invention “proceeds from an absence…to become the real stuff of knowledge.” Within psychoanalysis that of which I am not as yet aware (absence, where I am not) may become that of which I am conscious (the real stuff of knowledge). But, in parenthesis, one might add that this is not, paradoxically, to suggest that one enters either the influencing machine of the analytic space, or peers into the ‘mental space’ of a Panamarenko exhibition principally in search of knowledge.