Aristoteles once said: "All geniuses are melancholics." He believed that melancholia was not a negative condition, but an excellent human quality. Influenced by black bile, the planet of Saturn and the seasons, a melancholic was capable of extraordinary things: he was intelligent, sensitive and chosen. Scientists and artists were supposed to be balancing between genius and insanity. Today a melancholic person is considered depressed, and sent to psychiatrists, medicines and clinics. Melancholy is the exact opposite of what is expected from us today: power, health, control, enthusiasm, the ability to live in the here and now.
This is one of the texts on the black walls in the exhibition Dark Chambers in Museum Dr Guislain in Ghent, an exhibition about melancholia and depression. An exhibition on this theme is in danger of becoming stereotypical. Some aspects of the exhibition are perhaps predictable; the rooms of the exhibition are dark, recurring themes in the works are loss, night, darkness, a recurring color in the works is deep dark blue. But the exhibition goes beyond these obvious ways of embodying melancholia. The theme is investigated thoroughly, from a historical perspective. Many works of art are shown; photographs, sculptures, paintings, drawings, video works, old and new. The accompanying texts on the walls provide a lot of food for thought. The exhibition shows art inspired by melancholy, driven by dark thoughts. Melancholics are shown, old photographs of patients diagnosed as melancholic, symbolic paintings of people in a melancholic position. There are works that relate to the theme in a less direct, almost abstract way.
If you are interested in psychiatry, sanity and insanity, Museum Dr Ghuislain is full of treasures. This exhibition, but also the permanent collection and the buildings itself - a former mental hospital - have been a profound and unforgettable source of inspiration for me.
A thought brought to mind by this exhibition: In the dark and melancholic depths of ourselves, beauty is found. Perhaps it is true that artists need to travel to this depth and darkness in order to really feel, and create works through which others can really feel what it means to be human.