If you’re not already familiar with the bewitching work of American photographer Nan Goldin, never attending one of her documentary screenings at Hackney’s Moth Club, not spotted her prints on the decks of Supreme skateboards, or were just not granted the joy of discovering her raw photographs in an art or photography class, this exhibition will give you a crash course into exactly what you’ve missed from the master artist over the past forty years.
Goldin’s show, Sirens, marks the seminal photographers’ first show in the UK in almost twenty years. Goldin joined the Marian Goodman gallery in September of last year, and has since been working on many of the incredible works displayed inside. Uniting years old work with three new video pieces, the exhibition is for sure Goldin’s most experiential yet. Memory Lost (2019) for instance, relates to the photographers’ recent work advocacy work in regards to America’s opioid crisis. The work reflects upon the dark and harrowing journey addiction has taken her on and is accompanied by an equally emotive score from composer and instrumentalist Mica Levi (Under The Skin, Jackie).
Goldin, who was formerly addicted to Oxycontin following a minor surgery, has been addressing the crisis head-on by founding protest group PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) last year. Since then, the organisation has been lobbying galleries funded by Sackler, the pharmaceutical company who manufacture the drug, to reject their patronage and donations, even staging a protest at South Kensington’s Victoria and Albert this past week. The work reflects upon the dark and harrowing journey addiction has taken her on, and is accompanied by an equally emotive score from composer and instrumentalist Mica Levi (Under The Skin, Jackie).
The photographer also introduced an updated version of her legendary photo series The Other Side, a project celebrating the transgender members of Goldin’s deeply personal inner circle. At the time of its first release in 1993, the project was groundbreaking, bringing visibility to a community still so misunderstood by those outside it. A re-edition is needed now more than ever when issues surrounding gender identity and transphobia have become tabloid fodder for all kinds of mainstream media outlets, right-wing political figures and TERFs.
If we had to pick just one piece that would really change your life, it would probably be Salome (2019), a three-screen epic based on the Biblical story about the stepdaughter of King Herod, who asked for the head of John the Baptist on a plate as a gift for her mother after dancing for the King. In Goldin’s version of events, however, Salome is a glamorous drag queen, dipping and turning around a ballroom to a funky disco banger, the other screens displaying a crowd of shocked male bystanders and a biblical storm. The work will leave you gripped to the screen for a hot minute, and if it doesn’t, you quite simply don’t have enough taste.
Of course, this just scratches the surface of what’s on show, and whether it be giant blow-up prints of dreamy and dark landscapes harking back to the noughties or the exhibitions’ namesake found footage piece about the enchanting mermaids of Greek mythology, it’s clear Goldin’s gift for totally overwhelming but gripping story-telling is well and truly still intact.
If you find yourself in Soho with an hour to spare, feel free to immerse yourself in the splendor of Sirens. The exhibition runs at the Marian Goodman Gallery until January 11th 2020.