Some Wicked Problem Solving news - 'Melancholia and The Brain' at The Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Melancholia Project.jpeg

Dear Friends

At The Trailblazery we are committed to the practice of wicked problem solving and of making of the invisible, visible. We are drawn like moths to the flame to the "super wicked problems" that challenge our current human operating systems. So, we navigate intersectional spaces to help frame new ways of understanding that not only evolve what we see, but how we see it. We work with multiple stakeholders and intelligences to unlock shared potential and catalyze creative solutions that address 21st century global challenges. We have a proven history in building networks of learned expertise and lived experience. This approach has produced large-scale collaborative ventures over the years like the ireland : iceland project (2011) and Census of the Heart (2016).

Melancholia and The Brain

The latest creative project from our wicked problem solving stable is Melancholia and the Brain – a fascinating transdisciplinary collaboration with Trinity College Dublin that integrates neuroscience, arts and the humanities with the lived human experience of melancholia/depression. Melancholia and the Brain started as a creative research project for The Trailblazery in 2017, when I came on board as ‘creative-in-residence’ with Professor Veronica O’Keane, (Psychiatry) and Professor Mary Cosgrove, (German) at Trinity College Dublin. Our enquiry developed by holding a series of conversations with people whose combined backgrounds included neuroscience, brain research, medicine, arts and the humanities, literature, mental health and public engagement.

Many artists over time have responded to the state of melancholia and Albrecht Dürer’s engraving, Melencolia I may well have been the the inspiration, for Lars Von Trier’s cinematic masterpiece Melancholia. One of our first experiments as a team was to watch Melancholia which has been described as "A beautiful movie about the end of the world". The film tells the story of two sisters (Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg), who find their relationship challenged as a nearby planet threatens to collide into the Earth. 

We then expanded the process outwards to include focus groups and a public poll with the core aim of integrating and synthesizing information about the human condition of depression in the public realm. We are now hosting our first event at the Trinity Long Room Hub on Friday March 01 at 6pm. We are excited about the cultural potency of this conversation and aim to continue this ongoing dialogue and engage audiences with the experiential relationship between Melancholia and the Brain.

A brain scan may reveal the neural signs of depression, but a Beethoven symphony reveals what that depression feels like. Both perspectives are necessary if we are to fully grasp the nature of mind, yet they are rarely brought together


Eric Kandel, In Search of Memory (2006) .


Melancholia and the Brain: Conversations between Neuroscience and the Arts invites artists, performers, scientists, critical thinkers and people with a lived experience of depression to explore pathways that include and involve the brain in our current understandings of depression. We are interested in exploring creative ideas that invite collaboration between artists, scientists and people with a lived experience of depression to generate new perspectives about depression in the public realm.

Our inaugural event will include a performance piece from BethAnne Linstra-Klein, (an expert by experience) and musician Justin McCann that explores the lived experience of depression and a conversation between between Professor Veronica O’Keane and Professor Mary Cosgrove that weaves the expression of melancholia in the Arts and Humanities with the neuroscience underlying melancholic states. We will also reflect on cultural understandings of depression including findings from a RED C poll on public attitudes in Ireland to depression. We have also invited Dr. Tony Bates (founder of Headstrong and Jigsaw) to share his ideas around a new integrated view of depression that is centered around the individual's human experience. The event will wrap up with a panel discussion, inviting audience participation. This is a free event and all are welcome. You can book tickets here:

About Melancholia and the Brain

Melancholia and the Brain’ has organically grown from initial collegial chats between Professor Veronica O’Keane and Professor Mary Cosgrove about the possibility of fusing neuroscience and the arts and humanities on the topic of melancholia and the brain. A neurohumanity perspective can really support the exploration of Depression/Melancholia because neuroscience informs us how brain circuitry makes experience, and the Arts and Humanities communicate experience in a universally felt way. This event will explore the subjective experience of depression as depicted over the centuries in the arts, how these subjective states are mapped onto brain-in-body systems, and how we need to move beyond idealogical perspectives to understand and support people who are living with depression.

“We are curious to know more about the different understandings of melancholia at work in Ireland today. Does the brain play a significant role in public understanding of melancholia, for example? From a neurosciences perspective the brain is understood as the principle locus and cause of melancholia - rather than the ‘spirit’ or ‘personality’ of the individual. Yet many works of literature, film, and other cultural artefacts which engage with melancholia omit the brain from their reflections, presenting the melancholic condition as that of an individual often experiencing  the heights of creative inspiration and the lows of existential despair. Bringing our perspectives together, we want to capture the real and experienced or ‘felt’ sense of depression, and share this with the public.”


Melancholia and the Brain project team

  • Professor Veronica O’Keane is a clinical and research psychiatrist. Her area of interest is in neuro-endocrinology of depression, particularly the relationship between stress and depression. Her research group is now examining the experience of depression in the brain. She has over 100 published scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals and her book “The Matter of Memory” will be published next year.

  • Professor Mary Cosgrove is a literary scholar of post-1945 Germany to the present. She has published peer reviewed articles, edited volumes, and monographs on German and Austrian memory discourses, trauma, and melancholy. Her most recent book is: Born under Auschwitz: Melancholy Traditions in Postwar German Literature (Camden House, 2014).

  • Kathy Scott, Creative-in-Residence on Melancholia and the Brain and Creative Director of The Trailblazery - a cultural platform dedicated to activating creative and socially engaged ideas on the island of Ireland and beyond -

  • Cian Judd, research assistant and postgraduate student in cognitive neuroscience, Trinity College Dublin.

I hope to see some of you there and look forward to some Wicked Problem Solving with you in the near future.

Kathy & all at The Trailblazery 

Image Caption: Melencolia I is a 1514 engraving by the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer.