Nan Goldin’s 2001 slide installation Heartbeat comprises 245 portraits of ‘couples and lovers’ – four different couples caressing and making love to one another. English composer John Tavener has composed a Kyrie eleison especially for Heartbeat, which is performed by the Icelandic singer Björk. In its totality, the installation forms an intense ode to love.
Nan Goldin (Washington, 1953) has been working on a highly intimate atmospheric portrait of friends and acquaintances from her direct surroundings since the late 1960s. The photographer concentrates on nightlife – extravagantly dressed men and women, gays, transvestites and transsexuals, drug addicts and AIDS patients. She photographs them in their most private moments: sitting on the toilet, lying in bath, drunk, masturbating, copulating, crying, dying. No one poses; nothing is staged; Goldin gives no directions. Everything is a direct result of the moment itself.
Where as death, disease, addiction and despair pervade Goldin’s earlier production, her recent works are characterised by life, hope, passion and love. As the artist herself explains: “My old work was concerned with people’s behaviour, but in recent years I’ve become more interested in their inner life; their relationship with themselves and with me. I’m interested in the spiritual now. I reflect what I see and feel. Maybe this allows me to temporarily break through the glass wall that exists between us and the world around us.” Heartbeat shows a new focus in the artist’s oeuvre – a perspective that seems almost entirely at odds with the raw images of her older work, but which is no less intense in its effect.