Daria Martin Films Her Grandmother's Dreams

It will take decades to parse the repercussions of contemporary political decisions, but analogous moments in history already exist. Examples of racism and intolerance, tightened borders, deportations, mass incarceration and a general lack of empathy are easy to find in the United States’ past—and in other, more sinister, regimes.

And we know the effects of this trauma; it lasts for generations.

At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Bay Area-born, London-based artist Daria Martin delves into her own family’s history to tell stories of anxiety, analysis and artistic inspiration, all stemming from her ancestors’ 1938 flight from Brno. Drawing five distinct narratives from her grandmother Susi Stiassni’s dream journals—more than 20,000 pages written over 37 years for the purpose of Jungian psychoanalysis—Martin creates an installation suspended in time, but rooted in place.

Daria Martin, Still from 'Tonight the World,' 2019.
Daria Martin, Still from 'Tonight the World,' 2019. (© Daria Martin; Courtesy Maureen Paley, London)

That place, Villa Stiassni, is her grandmother’s childhood home. The Gestapo seized the modernist villa after the family fled; today, it is a Czech heritage site. Through film, architectural installation and digital reconstruction, Tonight the World reclaims Villa Stiassni as a site of personal significance, a place to which Susi only ever returned in her dreams.

Casting women of different ages to “play” her grandmother (all clad in wonderfully varied magenta outfits), Martin filmed extrapolations of five dreams at the actual villa in Brno. These short sequences create some structure and a bit of loopy logic out of Susi’s often-brief dream entries, but they remain eerie and tinged with danger.

Elsewhere, Martin symbolically hands the agency of exploring place and memory over to others: In Refuge, a video game the artist created with developers in Brno, a player wanders through the villa, rendered in gray, seeking out Susi’s full-color dream objects.

Martin traces her desire to be an artist back to her grandmother, who was part of Ann O’Hanlon’s Mill Valley group “Sight & Insight,” and so an added treat within Tonight the World is a small display of Susi’s abstract paintings in a corridor off the dream-filled main gallery. They’re a testament to the fact that while trauma can be transmitted through generations, so too can creative energies and images of great beauty. —Sarah Hotchkiss

June 27, 2019

Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission St., San Francisco

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