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Exhibition Review Awakening forgotten dreams

MICHAL BONCZA is intrigued by Daria Martin’s video exploration of her family past trauma coded in dreams

Daria Martin: Tonight the World
The Curve, Barbican
Barbican Centre
Silk St, London EC2
 

Tonight the World is part of Life Rewired season that will run at the Curve throughout 2019, addressing “what it means to be human when technology is changing everything.”

In 2005 British-US video artist Daria Martin came across a 20,000-page archive of her just departed grandmother’s, artist Susi Stiassni’s, dream diaries, which contained around 40,000 dreams Stiassini had forensically recorded over a 35-year period from the 1970s onwards as an exercise of psychoanalysis. What brought about such obsessive and extreme introspection?

The Stiassnis lived in Brno (former Czechoslovakia) in a villa commissioned by Martin’s great-grandfather Alfred Stiassni — a wealthy Jewish textile manufacturer — and designed by the famous Brno architect Ernst Wiesner. It was built in 1927-1929 and was recently renovated and is part of the city’s architectural heritage, which includes the legendary villa Tugendhat, designed by Mies van der Rohe.

Just nine years later, in 1938, the family were forced to abandon all and flee for their lives under the imminent threat of nazi invasion — Susi was only 16 at the time. They travelled to Britain, later Brazil and finally settled in the US.

We are only allowed fragmentary glimpses at some redacted dream sequences from the original pages. In them Susi is often transported to her childhood home, the said Stiassni villa, one she would, however, never return to in person.

Perhaps the trauma of a childhood interrupted, forced displacement and resulting cultural alienation proved insurmountable. All bridges must have been burned, all except those in the deep subconscious.

Tonight the World — filmed on location in Brno at the very villa Stiassni — consists of consecutive vignettes that revisit this “childhood interrupted.” Martin has reimagined the narrative of five dreams with recurring themes of anxiety and intrusion — they remain surreal narratives of incertitude and ambivalence but suggest poetic, if perplexing, resolutions.

“In lifting the dreams off the page and placing them on screen, I wanted to reinvest them with what I imagine [was] their original physical and emotional intensity,” says Martin.

Dreams have, of course, been shared and interpreted in all cultures over many millennia — the Talmud, not without reason, says: “a dream we do not understand is like a letter that we do not open” — and philosopher Erich Fromm referred to them as “the forgotten language.”

A separate screen offers black and white HD videogame The Refuge, designed and developed with gamers in Brno under Jiri Chmelik. Its “play through” takes viewers through a virtual rendering of Stiassni’s childhood home — from room to room — and is signposted by log pages of the archive and objects associated with the dreams: a locket, a toy soldier, a mystery blue box.

There is something Proustian in Martin’s delicate and thoughtful search for an intergenerational continuum and significance permeated by a lingering sense of unquantifiable loss inflicted by her grandmother’s choice never to speak about what haunted her.
There is an edge to both videos that intrigues, ably sustains interest and even entertains but the lexicon is from a language we have, sadly, forgotten.

Ends April 7 2019. Free.

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