Sotheby´s Quartlery, Vienna (AT)

04.10.2018 – 20.12.2018

Andrea Jungmann (AT) and Doris Richter (AT)

Conceived for Sotheby's Quarterly, "Melancholia" is a cross-media installation about the Western cultural history of thought and its longing for a supra-temporal reality of existence, its failure, and a possible "redemption from its melancholy."

At the center of the installation is the 6.30 minute filmic work Melancholia (2013), in which an updating and re-location of the central polyhedron from Albrecht Dürer's 1514 master engraving "Melencholia I" into contemporary India takes place. The video is contextualized with four auction catalogs of the house, displayed in two vitrines, each featuring a print of Dürer's master engraving offered for sale.

The geometric form seen in the film functions here as a supra-temporal element (according to Aby Warburg as a "guiding fossil"), which "calls up" Dürer's work with all its levels of meaning and brings it into the present. The act of visualization happens performatively and in the truest sense of the word "playfully". Last but not least, the viewer himself becomes the audience of a scene whose initial seriousness of its perfect composition and its seemingly everlasting duration is increasingly threatened by the sound of an Indian "Baraat" (wedding band). The gaze now wanders freely between the images of the original in the showcases and to the mystified rhombus in the film:

Resting in itself and monumental, this dark geometric object sits motionless in the picture in a vast sandy landscape. Only after some time does a colorfully costumed brass band appear and take their place behind the object in a line, immediately breaking the previous silence with a song. The sounds of their instruments interweave into an initially bumpy piece that is performed with varying degrees of commitment by the musicians. They play the saddest song from their repertoire. After a few minutes, the performance is complete. The band silently leaves the scene and in the returned silence the loneliness of the object seemingly left behind forever is sealed.

Dürer's work was driven by the longing for the visualization and representation of the essence of the ideally beautiful. According to Plato, this succeeds with the help of basic geometric forms, which at the same time form the archetypes of the ideal beautiful. Thus it says in his dialogue "Philebos": "By the beauty of the forms I understand something straight and something circular and the surfaces and bodies, which are turned or determined by straightedge and angle measure. For these are not beautiful in relation to something else, but are always beautiful in and of themselves." Forever, the geometric solids studied since Greek antiquity seem to rest in one place and thus to be removed from any temporality. The longing for the ideal form is thus always the longing for the transcendent, to which the failure is already inscribed from the beginning by the attempt of a representation over a fixed form, since this stands contrary to the openness of existence, which is always in renewal.

Only in the dance with the movement of all things, according to Asian philosophy, can melancholy as the result of a misleading attachment be redeemed: On the banks of the Ganges, which is revered in countless Hindu rites as the river of life of perpetual coming into being and passing away again, the notes of a song for Dürer's polyhedron resound, traditionally played at weddings and telling of the bride leaving her parents to move in with the groom's family. It is a song of mournful farewell, ushering in the dissolution of a previous state of affairs while heralding the dawn of something new.

The exhibition thus creates a choreography of surfaces, a performative interweaving of two formal-symbolic sign ensembles: the geometric form referring to European intellectual history, which still recurs thousands of times in the image archive, awakening longing and desire for supra-temporal existence, and that of today's highly stylized ritual culture of Hinduism. The exhibition space thus becomes a stage on which philosophical questions of cultural patterns of thought and action are posed anew and negotiated in practice.

Text: Sotheby´s Quartlerly, Vienna 2018 
Photos: (c) Sotheby´s / 

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