The Zone of Silence
“One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house”
The attic sighs and groans. The slow hum of a violin slips through the floorboards and travels down into the rest of the house. The sound emanates from a dark place. Up in the attic, under the petticoat, the zone of silence. There is something unhomely about the sound. It is strange yet familiar. From above, plucking woman over and over. Plucking heimlich, unheimlich over and over.
Reflections of a Violin is a short film by Élodie Baldwin and Marie-Chantal Hamrock. It is a both a tribute and a testament to their friendship and their individual practices. It is not Élodie’s work, not Marie’s work but something entirely other. In response to the Banchory Violin Trail, Élodie and Marie explain the thinking and process behind their film Reflections of a Violin in their own words.
Having always been interested in bygone eras and stories, we had been thinking about making work in the attic for a long time. It is a large space, with exposed brick walls, and wooden beams that point upwards into a ceremonial peak, like a Victorian pyramid. In the attic one fateful night, we came across an old violin which had belonged to Élodie’s sister. Like the attic, it had lived a life before we found it, and had only 2 strings left to be plucked.
To us, it felt symbolic. Were these two strings representations of us and our friendship? Four years of working together and supporting each other culminated in finding this unusual and fascinating object. Neither of us are musicians but as we began to pluck the strings a musical language we were suddenly fluent in began to emerge. We started to draw this sound on paper, and womanly forms appeared, as if the sounds of the attic were speaking through us. With the muffled hum of the violin in the forefront of our minds a rich tapestry of research and influences came together. We discovered that the symbolist movement in fine art depicted imagery that we began to interpret not only as a source of inspiration, but as the story boards for the world we had started to piece together.
Dark figures of strange women with long hair depicted by the likes of Franz von Stuck felt more like memories of a past life than oil paintings on a canvas. Of course, the imagery of these women was made through the misogynistic lens of the male gaze, but this is what fascinated us so. Who is this sinful and dark woman they were trying to depict? Why were they so afraid of her that they felt the need to visualise her in so many different ways? The more we thought about it, these figures were just like us. We were choosing to embody this unclaimed, dark resident that women have been discouraged from exploring. And the more we uncovered these old paintings, the clearer the images of our characters became. The foreboding, sombre inner resident was climbing her way to the surface.
Historically death has often been personified as a violinist. The devil was repeatedly illustrated as a fiddler. The modern violin originates from the 1500s and was used in folk music, to accompany dancing. The practice of dancing was regarded as the work of the devil, something sinful and shameful. The music we chose to layer on top of our voices is Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns. It is based on an old French story that death could summon the dead from their graves by playing his devilish tune on the fiddle. When we first found the violin, we did not realise how performative the sound would make us feel. However, we also felt summoned by the violin, which became both a sculpture and an accessory to our dancing. We revelled in the feeling of sin that was once associated with the sound.
As the music in the film reaches a crescendo, the two characters begin to merge into one two-headed figure. The lightness of the first half of the film is replaced by this cloaked figure that fully embraces the reverie of the shadow self and the wicked sound of the violin. The voices become indistinguishable from each other, everything congeals into one infallible sound, thick and heavy.
The work comes to a sudden close with the sound of a door being shut and locked, with footsteps walking away. We wanted to convey something very final about this. As if all of these characters and strange objects could only fully materialise as visible forms within the attic, only real once summoned by the devilish sound of the violin. The attic was a place where they could truly flourish without the gaze and impressions of others. But there is also a paradox here. They are trapped in that space and will remain there as memories long after both artists have moved on and passed away.
Echoes of this work can be found in relation to the Banchory Violin Trail and the Barn. Of course, the obvious use of the violin within the film makes for a clear connection between the two. But folk music, and its ability to tell stories is something that has really influenced us. Coming to the end of our artistic education in Aberdeen meant that we had picked up on influences like that of Scott Skinner and his lasting impact in not only Aberdeenshire but across Scotland. It could be no coincidence then, that one of the most influential fiddlers in Scottish Traditional Music seeped into the deeper contexts of this work.
Folk music and traditional music have the ability to transcend time and generations to be interpreted differently by different time periods. Always surviving and morphing into new versions of themselves with every passing day. These are themes we found to be really impactful as visual artists and filmmakers because ultimately, we have the same goal. The Victorian attic, the influences of Scott Skinner, the symbolist movement and the old violin coupled with our modern technology, cameras and editing software has created a similar sense of how things can last, depending on the meaning we ascribe to them.
However, there is also a dark connection with this work and the past, especially in relation to Banchory and the surrounding area. When we speak of women haunting a home or an attic, one cannot help but think of the Green Lady of Crathes Castle. It’s almost frightening to see how the work and us ourselves, have been subconsciously influenced by this infamous phantom. We did not haunt the attic without being haunted first ourselves. Mirrors and imagery associated with them can be seen throughout our film. It’s funny then to see the mirror image of our work in relation to the forlorn spectre of the Green Lady, a harbinger of death. She always appears in the same room of the castle, as if she is trapped there. In much the same way, our attic door is locked, forever trapping our ghosts between those four attic walls for future generations of be haunted by us. A harrowing feeling of dread is felt by all those who have been said to be in the presence of the Green Lady, and that no matter what her presence endures, although her true identity remains a mystery.
These themes of timelessness, ambiguity and mystery are at the core of the work that we sought to make together. And it feels so apt to have shown it once in the attic where it was filmed, to now display it in the nether realms of the digital world, to exist as a spectral version of itself. It is an echo of the everlasting impact that Scott Skinner’s fiddle had on music, and the perpetual and looming presence of the Green Lady in the surrounding area. It is certain that we have been unwittingly possessed by their ghosts in the making of this work.