It was a megalomaniac idea to paint a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. However, as I inquired more about the sometimes tragic story behind this particular fighter jet and the collector, the envisaged painting aswell as the peculiar activity of collecting took on more depth and meaning. The Lockheed F-104 was eventually painted with a Death's Head Moth and punctured with a life sized needle, thereby referring to taxidermy as an example of the collecting activity. Gradually this activity presented itself as a somewhat dark characteristic feature of the contemporary human condition, or put more precisely, as a form of denying our human mortality.

The Death’s Head Moth owes its name to the stains on his chest piece which have the shape of a skull. Mindful the overall longing of the moth to draw closer to the sun and heat, revelling in the whole and eternal High Light and scorching its wings as flying too close to the sun, the association with death seems obvious. But a similar image applies for the rise and decline of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.

In particular, the (image of the) very short and thin wings which are likely one of the most typical and symbolic characteristics of the Lockheed F-104 Starfigther refer to its revolutionary but also absurd design. The supersonic fighter-bomber jet is therefore often described as "the missile with a man in it". Admittedly, this airplane broke all height and speed records but at the same time it demonstrated the worst safety record ever. Many horrible and fatal accidents got the F-104 the nickname "The Widow Maker". Despite the unambiguous association with fatal incidents, “The Widow Maker” was a success and many countries signed a contract with the producer Lockheed, including Belgium. In April 1964 the first F-104 Starfighter was delivered to the 10JB Wing. One Belgian pilot who died in an aircrash with the F-104 Starfighter was a family member of the collector of the exhibited aircraft.

In his Magnum Opus from 1973 'The Denial of Death', cultural anthropologist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize Ernest Becker describes ‘collecting’ as one of the many forms of death denial, the ultimate fallback and titanic but completely helpless attempt to find our immortality in something outside ourselves. In this sense the drawing of a Death's Head Moth on an aircraft which is called “The Widow Maker” allows us to investigate the link between the historical circumstances of the rise and decline of the aircraft as an artifact and the significance of the deferred characteristics which are being attributed to the object that must be(come) collectable, first and foremost for their explanatory value regarding to the questionnable denial of death as paradoxical part of our human conditionA life sized needle punctures simultaneously the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and the Death’s Head Moth, pointing out the important relationship between all of these elements.

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© Text by Tom Simons.