Nan Goldin. What can I write about artist and activist Nan Goldin? How can I address her raw and honest art? What can I say about the way she beautifully and hauntingly captures her life and friends? How can I put into words how her images are a poignant reflection of her lived experiences? How can I reflect upon the intimate moments that are unfolding in front of your eyes?
What can this Nan Goldin aficionado possibly say?
Well, I can try. Her exhibition Sirens at Marian Goodman Gallery in London presents not previously exhibited archival photographs, a range of historical works together with three new video works exhibited for the first time.
Her images are so authentic and heartfelt because of the unstaged and unposed nature of the relation between artists and depicted person. This is her life. These are her friends.
“I lived with some drag queens so I photographed drag queens. I never decided that drag queens formed a subject that I had to photograph,” she said. “The work was always a direct offshoot of my life. I have a need to remember everything. The photography comes from that need. Photography provides the material for this diary.”
One of the moving images in the show, the slideshow The Other Side, was originally created in 1994 “[The Other Side] is a record of the courage of the people who transformed that landscape to allow trans people the freedom of now,” Goldin has said of the series, which dates back to the 1970s and documents the drag queens and transgender individuals who are friends of Goldin. “My dream since I was a kid was of a world with completely fluid gender and sexuality, which has come true as manifested by all those living publicly as gender non-conforming. The invisible has become visible.”
The most recent digital slideshow titled Memory Lost (2019) recounts a life lived through a lens of drug addiction. Goldin famously established P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), which responses to the opioid crisis, successfully and specifically targeting the Sackler Family for manufacturing and distributing the drug Oxycontin through their corporation Purdue Pharma LP and philanthropy to museums and cultural institutions as a mechanism for improving their public image.
Memory Lost is a depicting of the beautiful and haunting journey unfolds through an assemblage of intimate and personal imagery to offer a poignant reflection on memory and the darkness of addiction to this painkiller.
Goldin also works with found footage, in Salome (2019), for example. Presented on three screens, is the Biblical story of Salome – the stepdaughter of King Herod who asked on behalf of her mother for the head of John the Baptist on a plate as a gift for her dancing to the King and his guests. Only in Goldin’s version, Salome is a glamorous ’70s style disco drag queen, dancing around to o a funky disco banger.
Her work is frequently defined as being about marginalised people. She discloses: There’s a misconception that my work is about marginalised people, but we were never marginalised because we were the world. We didn’t care what straight people thought of us. We had no time for them – they didn’t show up on our radar. It was transgressive against normal society, but it was not about outcasts.”
Oh, and btw, in case you’re interested. I saw her and talked to her while watching her art. So, beat that, people.
Check out Sirens for yourself if you can! The exhibition is on view at Marian Goodman Gallery until 11 January 2020. For more information click here.