The American artist Nan Goldin is a year older than me; we are therefore near contemporaries and have seen the world change in all sorts of different ways over the last 50 years. Man has walked on space and hidden gay, transvestite, bisexual and transvestite communities have become out from the darkness into the daylight.
Here we are at the Marian Goodman Gallery in Soho in London, an area that was once home to seedy nightclubs and strip bars. I remember when as I young man it was commonplace to be propositioned and invited down into deep dark basements with predominantly red interiors – the colour of opium dens.
Downstairs women are preparing for the night ahead or are elegantly dressed for a night of entertainment in the clubs and theatres, at a time when people still dressed up for an evening out, something which we have sadly lost.
Nan Goldin’s ‘Sirens’ at the Marian Goodman Gallery focuses on the hidden communities in our cities including transsexuals and those whose lives revolve around entertaining others and may be embedded in the illusion, the despair and the addiction of the drugs scene. At the heart of the exhibition digital slide shows of constantly changing images take us on disturbing, personal and intimate journeys of lives possessed, controlled and lost through addiction to drugs and the perceived joy of being ‘high’, set to music by Mica Levi, a celebration of the achievements of those, often with great courage, who have brought recognition and freedom to the transgender community: ‘the visible has become visible‘ (Nan Goldin), though, beyond the rarefied world of Soho, there is still much to be done, with a huge amount of ignorance and prejudice in many communities, as I myself am always surprised to find when it rears its head in places where you don’t expect it. A fourth show is based on the biblical story of Salome with its themes of seduction, lust for power, and revenge.
As you walk upstairs, you enter an entirely different world, as you move from the dark undercurrent of society to find daylight cascading down through the rooflights, Nan Goldin’s immense photographs of empty skies and landscapes from locations including Brazil, France, Ireland and Italy act as a counterpoint to the representations of urban life on the floor below.