Sirens, an exhibition of new photographic and video work by Nan Goldin, is now on show at Marian Goodman Gallery in London
Nan Goldin’s seminal work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency was first produced in 1985 and has been adapted and exhibited in varying iterations since, all over the world. The 45-minute slideshow of these photographs, originally set to a soundtrack featuring the likes of Yoko Ono and Dionne Warwick, mined Goldin’s personal life, and has been praised over the years for its searing candour. Now, for her first solo exhibition in London since 2002, titled Sirens, Goldin presents new photographic slideshows, as well as unseen video and photography work.
A portion of the archival photographs on show in Sirens have not been exhibited previously: the slideshow The Other Side, for example, was originally created in 1994 and has been added to for this exhibit. “[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 the photographer has been close to and lived with over the years. “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.”
Goldin’s new work remains disarmingly candid. In 2017, the image-maker founded the activist group PAIN – an acronym for Prescription Addiction Intervention Now – after her own struggles with opioid addiction, having been prescribed the pain relief drug Oxycontin. In the new slideshow Memory Lost, Goldin addresses addiction via photographs – hazy self-portraits, landscapes, pictures of carpets strewn with various pill bottles – set to new music composed by Mica Levi and recordings of other people speaking about their experiences of opioid addiction. The 24-minute work explores the darkness of addiction, to arresting effect. Sirens screens alternately with Memory Lost, and comprises found video footage, compiled by Goldin and soundtracked by Levi.
The exhibition’s photography dates from the 1970s to the 2000s, and demonstrates Goldin’s enduring preference for photographing her friends, family, subcultures in cities the world over, and those who exist on society’s margins, with empathy and intimacy. In a 1986 interview with Mark Holborn, conducted after The Ballad of Sexual Dependency had been exhibited in New York for the first time, Goldin explains that her work is “the diary I let people read”: “I have been taking pictures of my life since I was 16... I was obsessed with recording my life. The major motivation for my work is an obsession with memory. I became a serious photographer when I started drinking because (the morning after) I wanted to remember all the details of my experiences. I would go to the bars and shoot and have a record of my life.”
“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 continues. “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.”
Nan Goldin: Sirens is at Marian Goodman Gallery, London, from November 15, 2019 – January 11, 2020.