Our time is full of contradictions. How can an abundance of consumer freedom be reconciled with an impending ecological disaster? How can we reconcile unbridled indulgence with the death of desire? How can one reconcile democracy with political powerlessness? In this context of existential loss a current study of melancholy is relevant.
In this research project we don’t want to narrow melancholy down to a nostalgic focus on the past or on a paradisiacal state of authenticity. Melancholy refers to an awareness of the ephemeral and the loss and thus can be the motor of a quest for meaning. Moreover, melancholy, as culture philosophers teach us, carries a game element and a theatricality within itself. We want to study that inherent dramaturgy  and test it through the medium of theatre, in a cross-fertilisation with the visual arts. Is it possible that in the theatre, the medium par excellence of the brevity and the here and now, we attain a creative acceptance and play with our finite existence in this late capitalist society? How can the logic of "having" be productively and imaginatively turned inside out through melancholy so that a perspective is obtained on a new state of ‘being’?
In order to investigate this, two theatre actors and a visual artist start a collaboration with a reflection team consisting of literature and theatre scholars, a sociologist and a philosopher of art. Together, they want to map an actual dramaturgy of melancholy and test it on creative and possibly innovative forms of writing and staging. They also want to investigate how existing classical and allegedly melancholy repertoire could be staged and edited on the basis of the actualised dramaturgy.To this end they set up workshops and performances. They will develop these insights in articles and lectures at a symposium on the art of loss.


  • Geert Kestens (project leader, KU Leuven/LUCA)
  • Els Janssens (LUCA)
  • Adriaan Van Aken (LUCA)
  • Wim Lambrecht (LUCA)
  • Stéphane Symons (KU Leuven)
  • Bart Philipsen (KU Leuven)
  • Marijn Lems (STUK)

Research unit: Music & Drama

Duration: 2012 - 2015