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19.10.04

Nan Goldin in Paris

After I mentioned Nan Goldin's photographs in a recent post (New Photography Exhibit, October 17), another article (Nan Goldin, la ballade de Barbara, October 14) by Armelle Héliot for Le Figaro reviewed Goldin's installation, called Sœurs, Saintes et Sibylles (Sisters, Saints, and Sibyls), now on view in the Chapelle Saint-Louis of the Salpêtrière (until November 1), as part of the annual Festival d'automne (mentioned in a brief post last fall). Here is my translation of an excerpt:

"Remember, most sweet and merciful Virgin Mary," implored Bernard of Clairvaux, as the text of this prayer from the 11th century recalls, inscribed on a lectern. "Remember," Nan Goldin implores implicitly in creating, with Raymonde Couvreu, this moving work as part of a public commission from the French Minister of Culture and the Festival d'automne. In the heart of the chapel of the Salpêtrière, you enter the installation only by climbing a staircase that leads to a temporary balcony. It is from this vantage point that, standing and leaning against a weak railing, a few people can witness together the 39 minutes of images and sound that make up the fabric of Sœurs, Saintes et Sibylles. They contemplate the three large screens after having observed, lying down downstairs, at the very center of the building, in a small, narrow bed made up in white linen, a young girl's bed in the 50s or 60s in America, the chestnut-haired wax statue, the nude doll, underneath a snow-colored nightie that has lightly ridden up, as if the sleeper had moved in her eternal sleep.

Nan Goldin, Sœurs, Saintes et Sibylles, 2004There are three movements in this suite, this pavane for a dead sister. Saint Barbara, who shut up by her father in a tower, made in it a third window—they are here—as a sign of her conversion to Christianity, a baptism in light, the Holy Trinity. The father cut off his daughter's head, but lightning immediately struck him dead. Such is the legend of Saint Barb or Barbara, patroness of artillerymen, miners, firemen. Excitable, as is the adolescent child, the young girl who appears later: Barbara Holly Goldin, born on May 21, 1946, beloved older sister, inspirational sister. Rebellious, flamboyant pianist, brilliant students, suffocating in the pillory that was the United States in those years, and shut up by her parents—her mother was annoyed—in psychiatric hospitals. On April 12, 1965, granted leave from one of the institutions where she was a prisoner, Barbara threw herself under a train. "Don't say anything to the children," the guilty adults said, but Nan understood everything on that day. That atrocious wound underlies all her artistic gestures, her path, this long painful path that goes through drugs, self-mutilation, friendship, love, and this care for others that she has always had.

Nan Goldin outrages, she has never been afraid of anything. She affronts reality and her personal demons. She has made photography her method of revelation. In the third part of Soeurs, Saintes et Sibylles, she focuses on digging through her own scars. On the green grass of the cemetery where Barbara is buried, on the dried grass under the small stone engraved with Hebrew words, two stars of David, and a menorah, there are the little stones and some flowers. Fragile thoughts stir up in the wind. "It seems so long ago/Nancy was alone/Looking ate the late late show/Through a semi-precious stone," sings Leonard Cohen. Everything seems so far away, but the emotion is so alive.
You can look at the brochure for the installation in this .PDF file. The article translated here has disappeared into the archives, but you can see this little capsule on the installation from Figaroscope, on October 6.

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