The state of melancholia was once considered an attribute of creation or genius unreason, presently the mental response to loss [of a loved one or some abstraction of oneself such as country, liberty, an ideal, etc. ] has been hijacked from any positive connotation and more commonly affects anyone now under the categorization of illness -- depression. Some theorists attribute this to the idea that contemporary individualism consists of having democratized the idea that anyone can be special. In the 16th century is was the elective sickness of the exceptional man - now it is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder.
We can date this change in climate somewhere between the 1950's and 1960's, when societies were becoming increasingly scarce as the urgency for individualism and autonomy dominated. At some point around the mid-twentieth century, the society of discipline and norms that fixed the individual in their place was destabilized and lent itself to a society organized around the sovereign individual, free to set their own benchmark of development, responsible for their future and who therefore find themselves in a void, not knowing how to act, nor even why it is neccessary to act. The melancholia once reserved for the privilege of a few great geniuses, has now become a depression available to anybody. It is a response to a society that was once geared toward conformity, the forbidden, and a mechanical obedience transformed into one of choice, liberation, self ownership and individual initiative. "Depression, then, is melancholia plus equality, the perfect disorder of the democratic human being. It is the inexorable counterpart of the human being who is her/his own sovereign" ¹
Leila Hekmat explores the contemporary associations and causes of modern day melancholia through her eight part presentation, largely titled, Grand Gestures. The second edition of this project is being exhibited in an unconventional arts location, a space typically designated for advertisements on a public clock tower. The whole of the project is deep seated in themes of self help and identity analysis and what that means in the larger context of collective consciousness. Each part of the series aims to expose something about the ways in which human beings desire forms of inner enlightenment and the ways in which this becomes a socially constructed idea of enlightenment.
In this singular branch of Grand Gestures, Hekmat delves into the "oral-sadistic" phase of melancholia , making mentions of cannibalism (devouring) and anxieties (fear). Freud explains the oral phase in connection with the psychopathology of instances of the ego's loss of the objects it has invested emotional energy into, "The ego wants to incorporate this object into itself, and . . . it wants to do so by devouring it,"² As examined earlier, it is commonplace for almost anyone to mourn the loss of some abstraction of ourselves with the change into a society of the me generation- a generation geared towards "self-realization" and "self fulfillment". Someone walking by the work of Leila Hekmat, perhaps already introspect will be momentarily confronted with their own psyche and the impulsive responsibility to react. Hekmat has, in someway, bestowed upon the public a gift. Perhaps the confronted will relish in this grand gesture to engage in the genius unreason and find joy in their melancholia or a moment for the collective unconscious to prevail.
1 The Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the History of Depression in the Contemporary Age, by Alain Ehrenberg . Montreal, CAN: McGill- Queen's University Press, 2010
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