Refuge: exploring emotional inheritance through videogaming

Refuge: exploring emotional inheritance through videogaming | Daria Martin

Daria’s initial Knowledge Exchange Fellowship project explored themes of resilience in mothers and children during periods of political and social turbulence and personal distress. Through playwriting, filmmaking and workshops, the project sought to explore how grey areas of power relations and structural violence might be addressed in ethical ways for both young and old audiences. It looked to produce artistic renditions of violence that were challenging, yet did not perpetuate or collude with violence.

Daria has now been awarded Knowledge Exchange extension funds for a further project, Refuge: exploring emotional inheritance through videogaming. She is working in partnership with Villa Stiassni (Brno); now managed by the National Heritage Institute of the Czech Republic, it was the childhood home of her Jewish grandmother, who fled the imminent threat of Nazi persecution in 1938. The project is based on her grandmother’s dream diaries, in which more than 40,000 dreams were recorded across nearly 40 years.

Daria says: ‘My grandmother Susi Stiassni kept these diaries, initially for the purposes of psychoanalysis, as an exploration of her inner world. This project focuses on a particular cross-section of the larger archive: 275 dreams about Villa Stiassni, which I aim to place within a virtual rendering of the villa. This videogame will offer a fresh new perspective within the heritage sector by “restoring” (and reconstructing and redistributing) difficult emotional histories through an unusual but highly accessible medium. It will also push the boundaries of what can be addressed through videogames, addressing Holocaust themes for the first time.’ Brno, once an industrial capital of Czechoslovakia (Daria’s great-grandparents were textile industrialists) is now a major European gaming hub.

Daria has formed a partnership with Petr Svoboda at the Czech Heritage Institute, who opened the doors of the Villa Stiassni to her and a film crew so that they could make an art film there. Daria adds, ‘Two Oxford interns also mapped the villa digitally through photogrammetry technology, so that now, for the first time, a navigable digital model of the modernist villa exists. With programmers from the University of Masaryk I designed a basic videogame through which viewers can navigate and encounter five of my grandmother’s dream-diary pages.’ Daria reports, ‘The managers of the Villa Stiassni (both local and national) welcome this artistic intervention, which represents a form of “emotional restoration” that complements the physical restoration of the villa several years ago.’

Knowledge Exchange Fellowships Brochure

Image of hall and staircase of the Villa Stiassni as displayed in the video game sequence.