Written for RAF News January 2023
Revered photographer and artist Nan Goldin reflects on the events that shaped her craft and character, all the while fighting one of the most powerful families in America, in this challenging and poignant documentary.
Goldin is funny and unflinching, able to revisit trauma by tackling it head-on. Goldin delves into the loss of her sister at a young age, the ravaging effect of Aids on the queer subculture she was a part of in 70s New York, the political indifference that they faced as a result, and their reaction: to band together and speak truth to power.
The group that Goldin fell into in this social scene was comprised of artists, activists and outcasts. People who seemed to possess a knack for self-expression and a sense of humour. It was here that her artistic sensibilities were nurtured, turning the camera on a life largely unseen, laid bare and beautiful. We see part of the slideshows that she would show to crowds, the ever-changing series ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’. In the documentary, we learn of her experiences with men and women, of domestic abuse, and sex work.
The scar that runs along the film however is Goldin’s own history with pain medication, namely OxyContin. Having battled addiction from this over-the-counter drug, and witnessed its destructive power, Goldin formed the group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) in 2017 with a group of likeminded people. Using her position in the art world to target the Sackler’s – the family and pharmaceutical empire often blamed for the opioid crisis in the United States – who have historically had their names in art galleries around the world. Here we see P.A.I.N as they infiltrate museums with elaborate signs and props, an artistic installation of sorts, that carries an important message, honouring the hundreds of thousands who have died in this epidemic.
Many of these reputable art houses would love to have the work of Goldin, but they get a little more than they bargained for.