Nan Goldin at Frieze 2018: “If I want to take a picture, I take it no matter what.”
Words: Will Ballantyne-Reid
All images courtesy of Nan Goldin and Matthew Marks Gallery
Amidst the hyper-capitalist spectacle of Frieze 2018, the political turmoil of the last year, and on the day before Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial and much-contested confirmation, legendary photographer Nan Goldin took to the stage with veteran arts writer Linda Yablonsky to discuss her career.
Goldin is famously one of the most fearless photographers of her generation – with work that examines the deeply nuanced relations between ‘coupling’ of all degrees. From relationships that veer between fear and obsession, to individuals in a complex relationship with their own self-presentation, Goldin’s work has always delved into the rich tapestry of our own humanity. Her appearance forced a re-consideration of her landmark practice, in the context of a modern world that though plagued with political unrest has at least made leaps and bounds in the context of queer representation – of which Goldin was a torch-bearer, realising the vast array of aesthetic and emotional identities that could be caught on camera under the focus of her lens.
“The instance of photographing, instead of creating a distance, is a moment of clarity and emotional connection for me.”
This was clear in each moment of her conversation with Yablonsky, who carefully guided the conversation through a cast of characters – many of whom are now historically renowned; Robert Mapplethorpe, David Wojnarowicz, Cookie Mueller, and other luminaries of New York on the cusp the AIDS epidemic, which would cut short so many of their brilliant lives. Writing on the iconography and rhetoric of the AIDS epidemic — and the “epidemic of signification” that occurred as result — Susan Sontag assessed that “the catastrophe of AIDS suggests the immediate necessity of limitation.” This accompanied, in part, the observation of multiple socio-cultural breakdowns; the conflation of medical fact and social fiction, the sensationalising impact of moral panic upon the media, the effect of hysteria upon imaging the disease — and how these were fuelled careless reporting, pre-existing homophobia, and governmental complacency. In a time of cultural confusion, ‘fake news’, and the breakdown of public discourse over multiple crises of socio-political injustice, Goldin’s work remains as relevant today as it has ever been.
The talk began with Nan Goldin at Frieze 2018 highlighting to the audience the presence of a striking series of medicinal bottles on the table, one for each life that would be lost to the American Opioid crisis during the course of her one-hour talk. This is her latest cri de coeur, and one through which she has suffered directly (as has always been the case with her work.) Writing of her own struggle with opioid addiction, Goldin acknowledges she “narrowly escaped […] I went from the darkness and ran full speed into the world.
“I was isolated, but I realised I wasn’t alone. When I got out of treatment I became absorbed in reports of addicts dropping dead from my drug, OxyContin. I decided to make the private public […] my first action is to publish personal photographs from my own history.”
As such, she has led an international campaign against the Sackler family – prescription drug dynasty and noted patrons of the arts – described by the New York Times as “the family that built an empire of pain.” In again tying her work to an epidemic of physical injustice and its emotional consequence, Goldin continues to forge ahead with a photographic practice that is deeply entrenched in her own personal politics – and in the bravery it takes to make the personal public in the name of political progression. We should all be grateful for her fearlessness, and the humility and honesty with which she rages on.
To see more by Nan Goldin at Frieze 2018, visit Matthew Marks Gallery