Saturday, April 15, 2006

Nan: Still a fan?

Nan Goldin's "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" brought images of downtown outcasts to many viewers for the first time: junkies, transvestites, drunks, and wastrels. It also pioneered the snapshot aesthetic - candid, spontaneous, grainy - that has trickled on through Wolfang Tillmans, Larry Clark, and Ryan McGinley. Goldin's work has continued to be heavy-hearted and sympathetic and snapping friends and acquaintances, she snaps herself in the process. In her more obvious self-portraits, Goldin depict herself as battered, intoxicated, or depressed.

In "Sister, Saints, and Sibyls," Goldin investigates the tragic suicide of her sister, Barbara, a teenager whose rebellion reaped institutionalization. Over a backdrop of Saint Barbara, a martyr, Goldin recounts the brief life of her elder sister. Barbara's eventual self-destruction haunts Goldin - physically and emotionally. We see patterns of self-destruction surface in Goldin, from her history of substance abuse to her self-inflicted wounds. "I intend to explore the relationship between the story of my sister, myself, and Saint Barbara," says Goldin.

It is hard to be critical of an honest, tender, and cathartic project such as this, especially considering the technical ambition - this is Goldin's first exhibited project involving moving images. Criticism here feels cynical.

But one might suspect Goldin, who seems to revel in her image of a suffering, self-destructive woman. The camera focuses on Nan looking hungover and morose. Her occasional smiles look manic and her voice in the video is flat and lifeless. Isn't she too old for this self-pity and melodrama? And is it vain to equate onself with a martyr? For which causes or communities is she dying? Or is this the mythical melancholy that chronically afflicts many great artists? Or are we too naive still, to understand how a grieving, recovering addict feels at age 50?

In any case, "Sisters" ignited tears and forlorn sighs from the audience in Matthew Marks' graded viewing space. The framed landscapes and portraits in the main space provided a decompression chamber, helping to diffuse the shock of leaving the dark viewing room for the sunny street outside.

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