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 film Melancholia (2013), in which the central polyhedron from Albrecht Dürer's 1514 master engraving "Melencolia I" is updated and re-located in contemporary India. The video is contextualized with four auction catalogs of Sotheby´s, displayed in two vitrines, each featuring a print of Dürer's work for sale.

The geometric form seen in the film functions here as a supra-temporal element (or, according to Aby Warburg, as a "guiding fossil") that "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  perfect composition's initial seriousness, 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 the mystified rhombus in the film.

Resting by itself, with a monumental dimension to it, this dark geometric object sits motionless in the picture against a vast sandy landscape. Only after some time does a colorfully costumed brass band appear and align itself behind the object, immediately breaking the previous silence with a song. The sounds of the instruments interweave into an initially bumpy piece, performed by the musicians with varying degrees of commitment;  the song they play is the saddest in their repertoire. After a few minutes, the performance is over. The band leaves the scene noiselessly and, in the returned silence, the loneliness of the object - apparently left behind forever - is sealed.

In his work, Dürer was driven by the longing to visualize and represent the essence of ideal beauty. According to Plato, this can be achieved with the help of basic geometric forms that, concurrently,  form the archetypes of ideal beauty. To quote the 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, an attempt that is inherently bound to fail to the extent trying to impose a representation over a fixed form is contrary to the openness of existence, which is constantly renewing itself.

According to Asian philosophy, only in the dance with the movement of all things can melancholy resulting from 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. It is traditionally played at weddings and tells 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 iconographic archives, 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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