Melencolia I

by Steve

I think I first consciously encountered Albrecht Dürer’s etching when I entered an exhibition on the work and influences of the writer WG Sebald. I had initially struggled to find my way in, then encountered a iron-clad circular staircase that took me down from ground level, although at no time did it feel like I was going underground as such, the experience was still in some way vertiginous as with passing each floor I couldn’t tell where exactly I was, both above and below, neither here nor there. The exhibition was shrouded in a large, heavy curtain, which as I passed through led me to a small passageway with another large, heavy curtain mirroring the previous one. The room was empty but for a small etching, from which the exhibition took its name, and in many ways took its inspiration, for although it was very much a collection of work related to Sebald, all of it could be viewed from the starting point of Dürer’s etching of 1514. I thought the etching was too small, but then realised I was wrong, that having to strain forwards towards the image made me pay more attention, that my inclination with large works of art is to just step back and let it wash over me rather than really scrutinise what is in front of me. I attempted to absorb all the details, aware that while there were undoubtedly a numbers of signs and signifiers in the image most if not all of them were beyond my knowledge and understanding, that this was something I would probably have to decode at a later date. However, art that needs decoding, or that references a variety of touchpoints, seems the most satisfying, and certainly helps guarantee its own longevity. Maybe it is the game of it all. Maybe the accumulation of it all, the sum of the parts, enables us to understand something more – the whole, so to speak. There was a pleasant sadness as I stood there, as you might expect. I parted the next heavy curtain, and stepped in.