Daria Martin was born in San Francisco in 1973. She trained as a painter before moving to filmmaking which enabled her to work with multiple narratives.
This show is based around diaries made by the artist’s grandmother Susi Stiassni who was forced to flee her home in Brno (now in the Czech Republic) in 1938 due to Nazi persecution. The diaries consist of over 20,000 pages of her dreams over 35 years, starting in the 1970s, as aids to her psychoanalysis following her trauma as a child.
The first film depicts Stiassni’s large childhood home in a video game. We walk repeatedly around the house which is monochrome and empty but for basic furniture and has blank walls. There are instructions to open doors, with eerie sound effects, and to pick up objects. The result is uncanny, unsettling and strangely hypnotic. The game was made in Brno itself which is now a major hub for gaming. There is a sense of taking the home back and the theme of resilience comes through strongly.
We then walk along a curved hallway in the gallery and, tantalisingly, can glimpse but not read some of the typed diary pages through a window-sized hole in the wall. A robot featured in the video game and the final film is mounted on the hallway wall to link the virtual and physical in this exploration. As in dreams themselves, we cannot see and understand everything. Some things are frustratingly out of reach.
The final part of the show brings five of the dreams to life, shot (using anamorphic 16mm film which is beautifully saturated) inside the actual villa with four different actresses playing Stiassni. These narratives are unnerving with suspenseful depictions of anxiety about intruders, loss and danger.
The introductory spiel to the show quotes Martin: “In lifting the dreams off the page and placing them onscreen, I wanted to reinvest them with what I imagine was their original physical and emotional intensity.”
Daria Martin’s achievement is remarkable. She has managed to draw us into an intimate journey through her family’s past. Dreams are always difficult to portray in a truly engaging way as they are mostly so strange by default but here they are genuinely interesting and rendered very powerfully to indicate the childhood trauma and heartbreak of losing one’s home in such a violent way. We feel like we are witnessing Martin’s contemplation of this transgenerational trauma and the stories, whilst being very specific, have a universal resonance.
- Use of colour and texture to create continuity
- Effective devices to link the internal and external worlds (avatars, small objects, documents)
- The process of the exploration being evident in the work itself – not just as an outcome