Melancholia (The Conference)

Melancholia 1

This weekend saw an extraordinary gathering at Collins Barracks: psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, academics and artists came together to watch and discuss three striking performances/screenings in the context of psychoanalytic theories of Melancholia.




still from Lars Von Trier’s film Melancholia

We watched Lars Von Trier’s full length feature and Cecily Brennan’s short film – both entitled Melancholia – and The Chocolate Performance by Amanda Coogan. There were prepared papers on theories and art and wide-ranging discussions that included art and literature, with particularly focused reference to the three works that featured in the two-day programme. It was a brilliant structure for a conference, because we all saw the same things and did (some of, I admit) the same background reading. A lot of the theory went over my head, but I was left with plenty to think about, to do with art, language, theory and experience and where those things may or may not intersect.


Cecily Brennan

I loved Cecily Brennan’s powerful 10 minute film Melancholia. A naked woman lies on her side facing out of the white box that contains her, which is mounted in turn on easel-like supports. A creased white sheet is under her. Her eyes are open. She is so still that at first a viewer might think they are looking at a photograph or a painting. But the woman breathes. Her skin glows, unusually alive. There is a painterly quality to the image – which echoes Holbein’s Sixteenth Century The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (which Brennan claims as an influence). After a while, a slow seepage of black paint becomes apparent under the woman. Slowly it spreads and overspills the limits of the box, drips to the floor. The advancing black changes the light and darkens the woman’s marvellous skin so that new impressions bloom.

The work is completely silent. The quality of the silence in the auditorium was remarkable too. It deepend as the black paint spread and when the film was over, the silence held – until the lights went up. I’d have liked to sit on in the dark for longer, but perversely, I also wanted to see the film again.

Later, Brennan told us that the work was shown on a continuous loop at IMMA.   One of the psychoanalysts said the thought of repetition made her shiver, because there’d be no progress – but she was thinking in therapeutic terms. I like the notion of cycles, return, re-visiting an image to absorb more of it.

There were many fascinating readings of this work and responses to it. But I just loved the experience of watching it because of its beauty, its strength and the interplay of light and dark.

For a taster, see:

The conference was organized by the UCD Humanities Institute and was co-sponsored by The Irish Institute of Psychotherapy, the Irish Forum for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, the Association for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in Ireland and the UCD Centre for Gender, Culture & Identities.

Cecily Brennan’s most recent work The Devil’s Pool: Madness, Melancholia and the Artist asks if there is a link between madness and creativity. It premiered at JDIFF in 2014.

See also:,211278,en.html


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