Investigating the life of things across space and time

She speaks to me at night (2008)

Stop motion animation (3.34mins) featuring Miss Ethel Grimbledeston by Sarah Gillett
If the film does not start automatically, click the PLAY symbol to watch.



Dear Miss Grimbaldeston,

I hope this letter finds you well and that Albert’s arm has mended as quickly as Dr Intoy predicted. I cannot thank you enough for the warmth you showed me during my stay, and for teaching me to sew. The snip snip snip of your scissors has stayed with me and I am determined to find just the right thimble for my finger. How are the parakeets? I keep thinking about them chirruping in their high cage and wonder if they will have any recollection of me when I return. I suppose it sounds curious, but I like to think that perhaps I am remembered by the house in some way.

I am very pleased with the drawings I made of the Lays and extremely excited about revealing them to my colleagues and eventually to a wider public, although I must confess to part of me wanting to keep Northland a secret. Unconsciously I have mislaid its exact latitude and longitude, and despite my best attempts to draw and redraw the route, I cannot precisely remember it, so I am left only with the topographical map you kindly gave me. Please could you send me instructions so I can find you again?

The voyage back to England was, as you warned me, circuitous but absolutely breathtaking, and I saw things during the 62 days that I would never have dreamed existed before visiting Northland. I will tell you all when I see you again, and I made sketches in my book to show you and Albert. Despite the spring weather and brisk wind at the outset, we soon slowed to navigate a way through the melting ice floes which towered above the ship. It was as though we were pedestrians in a strange city with some of the icebergs as tall as skyscrapers. As we threaded our way through this white city, many seemed to glow with an eerie blue light, sometimes as pale as the winter sky, sometimes storm cloud dark, internally bruised. Knowing that I was only seeing the very tip of these immense giants gave me a feeling of vertigo and a knot tightened in my stomach. The enormity of my experience in Northland hit me and yet had the vivid colour of the imagination. Miss Grimbaldeston, I am beginning to doubt myself, and need some word of reassurance from you that I am not suffereing from periods of delusion (as some of the doctors here are convinced) and I have not dreamt up you, Albert, Northland and the Lays. Entirely understandably, my findings have been viewed suspiciously, and even if these doubts are partially founded in envy, some voices carry weight amongst the scientific community and I need all the evidence I can gather to dispel any uncertainty. The beautiful Nin, blinking and tucking her head under her warm soft wings is as real as the grandfather clock groaning in the hallway downstairs but my drawings now look so surreal and bizarre that even I question my findings. The cold months I spent with you I recall with melancholy, affection and pleasure – please send me a letter by way of comfort so that I know all is as it was.

Until then I will have faith.

My deepest regards

Sarah Gillett



She speaks to me at night film stills

The story behind Ethel and She speaks to me at night

I made this film on my parents' kitchen table in Lancashire, and on the floor of an artist's clapboard house in Los Angeles.
text; © Sarah Gillett

Miss Ethel Grimbladeston is the guardian of Northland, an invented island with its own geography, population and laws of nature.

According to my mother, when she was a little girl growing up in 1940s Lancashire, the village seamstress was a Miss Grimbaldeston, although other family members don’t remember her (surely unforgettable) name. In my work, Ethel now exists as a 38cm tall object made from a 19th Century German nutcracker, the limbs of an old porcelain doll and an outfit I made from old fabric. Ethel has become my alter-ego – she is always in my mind and I draw her over and over again in different guises and circumstances, so she appears incidentally in many of my prints and films.

She speaks to me at night was first shown in the exhibition Northland and the Lays at the Fishmarket Gallery, Northampton in 2008.

Miss Ethel Grimbaldeston gallery

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