Daria Martin: Tonight the World review

Art
4 out of 5 stars
Daria Martin: Tonight the World review
Daria Martin 'Tonight the World' (2018) © Daria Martin. Image courtesy of Maureen Paley, London

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A sad fact of life is that your dreams aren’t interesting to anyone but you. You think people will be fascinated by how last night you were trapped in a spider’s web, but the spider was your primary school teacher and you were naked except for a fez. But your dreams are as tedious to other people as their dreams are to you. So American artist Daria Martin has achieved the impossible by making her grandmother’s reveries into interesting art. 

Susi Stiassni, Martin’s gran, fled Nazi persecution in her hometown of Brno in Czechoslovakia. Throughout the 1970s, she kept dream diaries as aids to her ongoing psychoanalysis, all seemingly referring back to the trauma of her youth.

Susi’s childhood home, an incredible modernist villa surrounded by lush forest, is recreated as a videogame when you enter the gallery. The video walk-through follows the player as they explore the rooms, all rendered in blank, flat grey. Objects are picked up, documents are flicked through. It’s a seriously unsettling work. Its motion is dizzying, its atmosphere ceaselessly creeping. It’s so unreal, so uncomfortable. And it’s all made more poignant by the game being made in Brno itself, now a hotbed of game-design talent. Susi’s past – the past of her family, of her home and her culture – has been obliterated, this is an attempt to grab it back.

Pages from Susi’s dream diaries are hung along the bulging lines of The Curve’s walls, just out of readable sight. Tantalisingly close, but still out of reach.

The final work is a more traditional film, recreating scenes from the diaries. Children playing hide and seek near a pit of quicksand, a woman being hunted while drinking from a stagnant pond. It’s all quiet, creepy, super-saturated; a world of fear, hunting and hiding. But it’s the least interesting bit of the show – it just feels too real.

The best bits of Martin’s installation feel like a process of returning to trauma, of rebuilding in order to make sense. Everything, like a dream, is slippery, ungraspable. These half-recollections don’t want to be remembered. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that the trauma of displacement, loss and death is inescapable. 

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