Today (3/4/2019), I went to visit Daria Martin’s Tonight the World exhibition at the Barbican Curve. This was one of the most immersive and curious exhibitions I’ve been to. I felt like there were lots of hidden meanings I couldn’t quite grasp but yet it was an immensely enjoyable, if slightly disconcerting experience. I thought the presentation of the vastly varying works was impressive and led to the intense intrigue I felt. I liked the way the exhibition used the ‘curve’ of the Barbican Curve space to its advantage – leading the viewer round a darkened, curved corridor and adding to the suspense. If I was to be critical in my opinion it was a bit too dark in terms of lighting. However, arguably it needed to be that dark to reflect the troubled story Martin was trying to convey.
In terms of content, all the varying works seemed to come back to the archives of Martin’s grandmother Susi Stiassni’s writings in her diary. A lot of Stiassni’s writings in her diary return to her childhood and memories of fleeing Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938. This vast collection amassed to over 20,000 pages. Looking at my studies I feel I could relate this back to the linguistic message Barthes talks of in Rhetoric of the Image (1964). Here, Stiassni’s writings in her diaries serve as the inspiration for Martin’s work and as the anchor for all the visual information present on the screens.
There were two screens present in the exhibition: one right at the beginning of the curve and one at the end. Part of the archives (it still seemed like a lot to me), the fulcrum for Martin’s work, were placed right at the centre of the curve. In this way the archives served as an anchor for the screens both literally and metaphorically. The screens themselves were massive in size and curved, further immersing the viewer in the work. The first was a game which played through an interactive experience of Martin’s imaginings of what her grandmother Stiassni’s home would have been like. There were lots of puzzles and clues dotted around the house which the player, presumably Martin, interacted with. Personally I found the game engaging to a point but as I couldn’t myself interact with it, a bit disappointing.
The second screen at the end told 5 stories from the archive of Stiassni and her childhood but played by differing actors. I found these short stories much more engaging than the game because again there seemed to be hidden meanings everywhere yet this time it was more purposeful. I felt I was on edge between sweetness and discomfort watching the childhood stories unfold. Now I think about it the hidden meanings might have been Martin trying to understand or come to terms with her grandmother’s writings. All of them in my opinion were beautifully shot with Martin’s experience as a painter coming through, especially with the colour schemes. The corresponding archive writings were placed nearby on a wall which enabled the viewer to try to make the connection between writing and images.
Overall I am glad I went to the exhibition. I found it enjoyable yet eerie and I had some insights into how powerful writing can be as an anchor and inspiration for an artist’s work. This might come in useful for Part 3 of Body of Work entitled: ‘Showing Not Telling’ where there seems to be a lot about the linguistic message anchoring work.
Barthes, R. (1964). Rhetoric of the Image. Evans, J. and Hall, S. (1999). Visual Culture: A Reader. London: SAGE Publications Ltd, pp. 33-40.
Daria Martin – Tonight the World. (2019). [Exhibition] 31 Jan. 2019 – 7 Apr. 2019. The Barbican Curve, London.