A Silent War: Lacunae




Belfast, the MAC, The Strand Arts Centre, Ulster Museum





02min 37sec





black and white, colour


Northern Ireland Screen's Digital Film Archive


Department for Communities, Georgios Varoutsos, Laura O'Connor, Linda McKenna, Northern Ireland Screen, Ross Thompson

Rights Holder

ITV, Northern Ireland Screen, Rights are managed by National Museums Northern Ireland on behalf of Tourism NI, Ross Thompson

It is illegal to download, copy, print or otherwise utilise in any other form this material, without written consent from the copyright holder.


Lacunae is part of A Silent War, a COVID-19-response poetry project written by Ross Thompson during the first lockdown. Drawing on the poem’s imagery of an abandoned Louvre and a disappearing Mona Lisa, this film explores the devastating impact of the pandemic on cultural institutions. Independently, sound designer and composer, Georgios Varoustos had been making recordings throughout the lockdown period, and when Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archive invited him to create a soundtrack for the work, these eerily changed soundscapes formed the basis of his response to Ross Thompson’s poem. 

The film shows ghostly archive footage projected on the closed curtains of cinema screens, and in deserted galleries. Dancers pirouetted around empty staircases, and AIDS quilts are endlessly folded in. At the point where the work was being created, there was a sense of uncertainty around which spaces would reopen when, or if, the pandemic finally came to an end, and how those that survived would rebuild in the post-COVID world. The film simultaneously points to the richness and vulnerability within shared cultural experiences.


Lacunae by Ross Thompson, written in Bangor during 2020 Lockdown

In the abandoned Louvre that afternoon, 
we gazed upon the rectangular space 
where the Mona Lisa once hung before 

she amscrayed, was volée, was replaced 
by a transparent frame of bulletproof 
glass entirely empty save for a few 

sachets of silica gel, a slab 
of climate-controlled nothingness 
housing a phantom portrait: a blank 

canvas rendered in vanishing 
paint made up of brushstrokes so fine 
they were negligible, points so small 

they were invisible, disappeared 
one feature at a time, headdress first, 
then her pearls, next her eyelashes 

and brows, then her enigmatic smile, 
each part erased as if doused in pungent 
turpentine. A masterpiece of absence. 

An hour later, in the museum café, 
we ate substanceless croissants 
and drank sugar-free lemonade, 

neither of us breaking the dead air 
until someone closed the tills, switched off the lights 
and let us disappear into the dark. 


Poet: Ross Thompson

Reader: Linda McKenna

Audio Mastering (Original reading): ST Mastering

Sound design: Georgios Varoutsos

Original music composed by Georgios Varoutsos

Filming by Jon Beer & Laura O'Connor 

at Ulster Museums, National Museums NI, the MAC and Strand Arts Centre. Thanks to Anna Liesching, Johanna Leech and all the venue staff for accommodating filming during preparations to reopen their venues. 

Artist: Laura O’Connor

A Silent War Creative Producers: Sinéad Bhreathnach-Cashell & Ann Donnelly

Funded by the Department for Communities through Northern Ireland Screen

Archive footage:

Close-up of a Woman’s Hands (1964) © ITV 

Ulster Museum Art Exhibition (1964) © ITV

Irish Names Quilt (1991) © ITV

Witchcraft (1965) © ITV

Spectrum: Fashion (1985) © ITV

Counterpoint: Cinemas (1978) © ITV

The Ballycastle Hootenanny (1964) © ITV

Last Call for Christmas Post (1964) © ITV

The Western Theatre Ballet at the Troxy on the Shore Road (1964) © ITV

The Last Days of the Empire Theatre (1962) © ITV

Family Festival (1951) © Tourism NI

Catering for People (1965) © Tourism NI



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