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Paintings of Half-Submerged Animals Foretell an Unsettling Future

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Lisa Ericson, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (2022) (all images courtesy of the artist)

In Lisa Ericson’s nature paintings, land animals are unlikely bedfellows on coral reefs, and small mammals, birds and beetles inhabit islands carried across waterscapes on the backs of turtles. The works are natural and unnatural at the same time – Ericson’s hyper-realistic and detailed painting style renders her subjects beautifully and identifiably, but the situations in which we find them are eerie, menacing and unexpected.

“Ultimately, I seek to stimulate or increase interest in the natural world around us, in all its beauty and complexity, while also raising awareness that our human behavior is currently putting all of this incredibly diverse life at risk,” Ericson explained in one Interview with Hyperallergic. “Together with our own existence, of course.”

Ericson’s creatures often struggle against a rising tide, with a waterline bisecting the plane of the picture. Animals congregate on cacti to stay dry or mingle with the world below the surface. In Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, a mountain goat seeks refuge from chest-deep water, perched on a rock inhabited by coral and frequented by marine fish. In “Late Warning,” a desert rabbit sits uncomfortably on a flowering cactus and gets an ear from a yellow-bellied bird that shares its precarious perch. These mammals cast sidelong glances at the viewer, seeking solidarity or perhaps blaming the position they are in.

Balancing “the tension between concern and hope,” Ericson aims to portray the richness of our planet while drawing attention to its impending disappearance.

“In creating these pieces, I’m doing what I hope my viewers are doing – personally coming to terms with the immense magnitude of our global climate catastrophe,” Ericson said. “We appreciate the intricate beauty of the stunning array of life and biodiversity that we are fortunate to still have on this planet, and contemplate the tragedy of its decline due to climate change, habitat loss and mass extinctions.”

Lisa Ericson, “Late Warning” (2022)

Turning scenes of nature into instructive moments or improbable team-ups, as in “Risky Business,” which depicts a flock of birds using a red fox as a ferry across knee-deep water, is just one of the reasons Ericson’s work feels so allegory or metaphorical Aesop’s Fables – although she can identify numerous points of inspiration in both visual arts and literature. She refers to The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch and books like Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood as inspirational tales of manipulation of the natural world, but it’s easy to find resonance points in the cautionary tone of folklore or even creation stories that position the world on a turtle’s back.

Ericson’s work has evolved over time from chimera-like animal-habitat hybrid scenarios to what she describes as “dystopian animal-habitat pairings” that comment on the climate crisis. The works speak of the ultimate interconnectedness not only of the human family but of all creatures within and influenced by the environment.

“We (humans) have such drastic effects on the natural world and all of its inhabitants,” she said. “And we are bringing about climate change that will be inevitable for most living things on the planet. So in that way, at least, we’re all very connected.”

Lisa Ericson, “Treading Water” (2022)
Lisa Ericson, “A Risky Business” (2022)
Lisa Ericson, “Flood” (2022)

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Christopher Glazek on All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

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Laura Poitras, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, 2022, HD video, color, sound, 117 minutes. Nan Goldin.

IT JUST TAKES ONE: a single dose that forever halts your breath; a killer product that hatches a monstrous fortune; a dead-set activist who barricades herself across history’s turnpike, lying flat, blocking traffic, screaming, “STOP.”

In our timeline, there is only one Nan Goldin. A singular woman, she is largely responsible for the moral earthquake that in recent years has shaken the foundations of art and philanthropy. For decades, the art world operated as a high-end laundry service: In exchange for cash, museums and galleries would gently scrub the reputations of wealthy families such as the Sacklers, removing the stains of disfavored commercial associations—whether weapons, oil, or addictive painkillers. Effectively a modern reworking of the medieval practice of selling indulgences to absolve sins—a crucial revenue stream for the Catholic Church until the practice was banned in 1567—this business model had an impressive track record of repackaging seamy robber barons as glittering patrons of the arts.

In some ways, Laura Poitras’s spellbinding new film about Goldin’s art and activism, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, leaves the viewer unsurprised that it took a gutsy iconoclast to shatter the art world’s corrupt consensus. Goldin, of course, is an original. An era-defining artist and aesthetic pioneer, a canny analyst and a pole-dancing hustler, the survivor of a childhood warped by mental illness and an adulthood marred by disease and addiction, a fringe-hugging outsider, a veteran operator skilled at the inside game, Goldin has spent the past five years forcing a hard reset in the culture sphere through strength of will, virtuosity of craft, and righteousness of anger. “I’m incapable of being a good bourgeois person,” she once told an interviewer. “I don’t get along with normal people very well.” In comparison with younger activists like Greta Thunberg, Goldin has more points on the board. Arguably, she has rewritten the textbook on reform movements, and it won’t be surprising if her name one day features as the answer to a multiple-choice question on an AP US history exam—perhaps regarding the moment in the United States when the unholy alliance between wealth, art, and ethical impunity began to sever.

Goldin has rewritten the textbook on reform movements, and it won’t be surprising if her name one day features as the answer to a multiple-choice question on an AP US history exam.

In Poitras’s film, Goldin gets to tell her own story, though we sense she has some discomfort embroidering her legend. There may be a tactical reason for this. Deliberately or not, Goldin shames us with her singularity. She seized an opportunity that should have been obvious to thousands of others who failed to act. She breathed life into a sleeping giant—the millions of victims, previously isolated and disorganized, without a common language of outrage, whose worlds have been devoured by opioids. Her actions at museums, repeated with discipline over months, triggered a chain reaction of disavowals of Sackler cash and, finally, removal of the Sackler name. The urgent, embarrassing question is why no Nan Goldin emerged in the academy, which also became hooked on infusions of Sackler money. Why zero medical-school professors—whose line of work is allegedly healing—showed up to carry Goldin’s torch, even after witnessing her many victories. Similar questions could be asked of many others. How did you spend the past five years? Why wasn’t it you?

WHAT GOLDIN TEACHES: It takes repetition. Pounding the pavement, blaring the horn, harping, hawking, angling, stalking. An ad works only after you’ve seen it seven times. A single protest at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur is not enough, no matter how many shares the video gets. It must be the Met and the Guggenheim and Harvard and the Louvre and the V&A. (If you do everything, you’ll win, said LBJ, delivering a maxim with applications beyond stealing elections.) The successful activist is a dog with a bone, a person possessed, a monomaniac.

Goldin has long intuited the profane power of repetition. It’s what drives The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1976–, a compilation, over decades, of the same people, the same situations, the same haunting aesthetic of erotic shambles and contorted bliss. Repetition is the pulse of addiction. It’s onanistic. It’s one long spiral, but it isn’t sterile—it builds. It is the mother of accomplishment. It’s the most basic and effective rhetorical device, as Donald Trump and Purdue Pharma’s sales reps fully grasp. It’s a tactic not always available to women, who are rewarded for being fresh—a new dress in every photo. It’s the opposite of a journalist’s logic—always on to the new. (This is one reason no one knows who journalists are.)


Nan Goldin during a die-in with P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, July 20, 2018. Photo: TW Collins.

Poitras’s film also draws its throbbing energy from repetition. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed piles snapshot upon snapshot of Goldin’s travails and tribulations, collected into digestible chapters with heavy, portentous titles (“Merciless Logic,” “The Coin of the Realm”). Unusually, for Poitras, the film never takes its foot off the pedal. Its accumulation of images and aphorisms snowballs toward a climactic release that is almost surprising. Like, oh . . . it worked? Those lofty ambitions weren’t thwarted? Goldin’s journey doesn’t end in tragic reversal?

Marketing prodigies are typically invited to use their talents to boost corporate profits, but there are higher callings for someone gifted in comms. Arthur Sackler may have been among the first-ever inductees of the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame, but Goldin is the latest pioneer in pharmaceutical communications. Among her group P.A.I.N.’s winning slogans: “Pills will kill,” “Sacklers lie, thousands die.” Words can be used to close pocketbooks, not just to open them. (The acronym P.A.I.N.—Prescription Addiction Intervention Now—is an echo, in reverse, of the various patients’ organizations astroturfed by Purdue in the 1990s, which had names like the American Pain Society and the American Pain Foundation.)

Simplicity is key. In a planning session captured by Poitras’s camera, Goldin concludes, “Death is the bottom line—we should do a die-in.” Goldin has always been good at getting people to scream—early audiences for The Ballad would howl at the projector, shrieking in approval or displeasure at each new image. She knows that good stories focus on individuals, that anger needs a target that’s flesh. “It’s personal,” she explains in the film. “I hate these people.” At another point, she sums up her call to action—“Stop taking money from these corrupt evil bastards.” This is the ballad of anti-Sackler activism: brute, acerbic, relentless—a righteous transvaluation of the smears the Sacklers once used to target addicts. (“We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible,” Richard Sackler once wrote. “They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”)


Laura Poitras, Citizenfour, 2014, HD video, color, sound, 114 minutes. Edward Snowden. Photo: Praxis Films.

Goldin, in fairness, has one advantage that younger activists would struggle to match: She’s battle-hardened from her experience during the last plague, the AIDS epidemic. Not coincidentally, she’s also a queer exhibitionist. She shows us that an effective activist is a show queen with a flair for theatrics—a preacher, for example, or a stripper. Someone drawn to exposure, to agitation, to verbal and physical conflagration. The real pros are adept at leveraging sentimentality (another mirror image of the Sacklers, who sentimentalized chronic pain; Goldin sentimentalizes the pain of addiction and withdrawal, a torture she personally suffered, with perfect pitch: “It’s the darkest you can go, the darkness of the soul”).

Queer exhibitionists have a nose for provocation. Often, like Goldin, they’ve grown up in households with lots of screaming. Like her, sometimes they fuck in elevators; they shoplift; they give head to taxi drivers in place of fare. At one point in the film, P.A.I.N.’s Noemi Bonazzi recalls Goldin asking if her career would implode. “I said, ‘Probably. These are very scary, powerful people.’” What Goldin proves, though, is that the Sacklers and their institutional accomplices are paper tigers. Billionaires in the United States are not used to receiving much scrutiny. As a species, they’re maladapted to handle light. The second the organism is exposed, it withers.

Poitras has long been interested in the science of activism, in how information and action can be marshaled in the service of reform. Here she found an answer.

Goldin put the Sacklers on blast, month after month, year after year. No one else did, she reminds us in the film: “Congress didn’t do anything, the Justice Department hasn’t done anything, bankruptcy court left them better than ever. This is the only place they’re being held accountable, and we did it.”


Laura Poitras, Risk, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 95 minutes. Julian Assange.

POITRAS IS AN EXPERT ON HERO REBELS, outsiders who take on the system. Many of her films turn out to be studies of masculinity—the gallant computer geek Edward Snowden in Citizenfour (2014); the paternalistic Doctor Riyadh in My Country, My Country (2006); the casually abusive hacker Julian Assange in Risk (2016).

When they’re straight men, many courageous outlaws turn out to be not merely exhibitionists but also alleged sex offenders. The opening sequence of Risk, Poitras’s greatest film, features Assange opening a bottle of beer with his teeth. It’s the kind of image that might have been captured in Goldin’s Ballad, and it neatly encapsulates the viewer’s fraught relationship with Poitras’s subjects and sources, the erotic intrigue, the risk of battery (whether from the government or from others in the dissident community).


Nan Goldin and members of P.A.I.N. march down Fifth Avenue after an action at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, February 9, 2019. Photo: Yana Paskova/Guardian/eyev​in/Redux.

Poitras’s heroes are often antiheroes. They let us down in some way. Risk was a brilliantly nuanced portrait of a flawed savior—and almost totally overlooked during the Trump era, when audiences craved simple tales about good and evil. Evidently, Poitras didn’t want a repeat experience with her next project. In All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Poitras has her perfect hero, a woman, an innocent, an afflicted person of queer experience who combines brass-tacks effectiveness with an instinct for stagecraft.

Her other films call attention to gaps and discomforts—the chasm between the eerie quiet of Snowden’s Hong Kong hotel room and the thunderclap of his revelations, the distance separating Assange’s messianic ambitions from his unnerving defects. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, by contrast, is a victory lap, a celebration of a fait accompli. In a way, it borrows more from social media than from Hollywood: It consists of nostalgic portraits, tagging of top friends, trolling, trauma bonding—almost un-mediated. (Unlike in Citizenfour and Risk, Poitras is largely absent from the film; it’s Goldin’s account, and Poitras isn’t leaving comments.) In that way, it’s more didactic, less problematizing. That’s fine; let’s learn from it. Poitras has long been interested in the science of activism, in how information and action can be marshaled in the service of reform. Here she found an answer.


Relabeled prescription pill bottles from P.A.I.N. actions, 200 Dead Per-Day Bell Jar, 2018. Photo: P.A.I.N.

There are important differences between Goldin’s mobilization and the dissidents who struggled against the Bush-era surveillance state. The Sacklers are not the National Security Agency. They’re not the government. They’re mere mortals, like Goldin. We live in an era when institutions are receding and individuals are more important than ever. This retreat of institutional power is apparent across sectors, from political parties to record labels, magazines, and Hollywood studios. Social media is one reason, and while Goldin is barely active across those networks, she has often been accused of inventing the candid Instagram portrait as a major aesthetic tendency back in the ’70s. (Whether institutional power is visibly shrinking in art is a complicated question. A curator told me recently, commenting on Elon Musk, “If Twitter disappeared next week, the impact on the art world would be zero.”)

As it happens, the historical arc of institutional retreat is traced by Poitras via Goldin’s own life. During the artist’s childhood in the ’60s, the state, in collusion with Goldin’s mother, imprisoned Goldin’s sister, declaring her to be mentally ill, ultimately driving her to suicide. When Goldin is an adolescent living with trans roommates in Boston in the ’70s, the police arrest people in the street for wearing the wrong clothes. By the time the opioid epidemic takes root, there are no mental institutions anymore, and people no longer risk arrest for being queer in public, if their skin is light. Fast-forward to the opioid crisis and you’re on your own. There is no state. Or rather, the state is an insurance plan—a payer, not an actor. It will buy you drugs, but it won’t pay for rehab.

At a backyard barbecue in Greenpoint in the summer of 2021, Goldin cornered me near the grill. She wanted me to write about the judge in the bankruptcy case, Robert Drain. No one had done so, and the judge was, in fact, a vulnerable figure, someone specially selected by Purdue through jurisdiction shopping because of his business-friendly reputation. The judge effectively had sole authority to shield the Sacklers’ decabillion-dollar fortune from thousands of lawsuits. Goldin believed he needed to feel the glare of the media spotlight. At the time, I had moved on to other things. I passed. The judge made his ruling. The Sacklers kept their money. We all make our own beds. Most of us are not Nan Goldin, but not because we couldn’t be.

This article appears in the December 2022 issue of Artforum.

Christopher Glazek is a writer based in New York and Mexico City.

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Juxtapoz Magazine – Radio Juxtapoz, ep 100: Romantic Lowlife Fantasies and Little Bit of Hope

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Yes, here we are Radio Juxtapoz turning 100. And what kind of turning 100 and then looking back on the golden age of… well, floating adulthood? For this 100th episode, we sit down with Laura June Kirsch on her new photo book. Romantic Lowlife Fantasies: Rising Adults in the Age of Hope, a look at the singular era that was the Obama years, and what many would see as both carnal, funny, debauched and indeed, we must say, the literal end of an era. These may be party photos, but there is something more unique in Kirsch’s photos, a time when music, art, corporate events, food culture, beer culture, festivals and a young generation of entrepreneurs and creatives came together for a party. And the party went a little further.

Subscribe to the Radio Juxtapoz podcast HERE.

Full disclosure, I helped edit this book with Laura and wrote something in the book’s introduction that I still truly believe in today:

“I worked on this book with Laura via Zoom, and it almost seems like it has to be. Perhaps it was necessary to rekindle a sense of nostalgia, but I think in a moment of hiatus and lack of socializing, Laura could begin to articulate what that era was like. She was here. She participated. There’s no judgment in these photos because it was a time when expectations and societal norms didn’t matter much. That’s why I love these photos, love their stories about each moment as it randomly appears and disappears in each of them. I only dipped my toe into these scenes, but I understood a sense of dynamism in the age of hope for our generation. This book is perhaps a chapter close. There might be the new Roaring 20s on the horizon, but that’s what makes this era so bizarre and disastrously wonderful. She wasn’t born out of a time when we couldn’t interact, when our live music, bars and nightlife were taken from us. Romantic Lowlife Fantasies was literally a moment when we all decided together that life didn’t need a schedule. These photos are fun, a word we don’t use often enough in our vernacular, and Laura captures what it was like to just have this amazing community spirit and damn fun.” —Evan Prico

The Radio Juxtapoz Podcast is hosted by FIFTH WALL TV’s Doug Gillen and Juxtapoz Editor Evan Pricco. Episode 100 was taped in NYC in November 2022. follow us on @radioCentre County Report // https://www.romanticlowlifefantasies.com/

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Your Miami Art Week Bingo Card Is Here

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You’ve only just digested your fourth helping of Thanksgiving filling, but alas, Miami Art Week is just around the corner. Every year is the same: just as we gear up for the holiday season, this annual bonanza of wealth and excess hits us in the face in the face of looming international crises. For those working at Art Basel Miami Beach or any of the other fairs, remember: drink and comfortable shoes are your friends, and no deal has gone wrong that a corona can’t fix. And if you’re visiting, be nice to locals and tip your drug dealer.

See you there, I’ll be the one speaking in Spanish to the iguana in line for the overpriced coffee – oh hey BINGO!

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