Collection Artwork
Nan Goldin (born Washington, DC, 1953)
Self-portrait in blue bathroom, London 1980 [from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency]
1980
Cibachrome print
paper size: 11 x 14 in.
image size: 9 1/8 x 13 1/2 in.
The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum
photographed in London, England, United Kingdom, Europe
2018.39.1.11

Ongoing Research

Research on our collection is ongoing. If you have resources you’d like to share, please contact Associate Curator Rebecca McNamara.

Tang Collective Catalog


A long day at work. Doesn’t matter what occupation, because you and I know the feeling of having so much on our plates that we bite off more than we can chew. Why? Because we expect ourselves to be these people that have it all figured out. It still doesn’t take away from the fact that we are burnt out and need to soak ourselves to put out the heat. A shower could suffice, the feeling of water dripping down our backs as the steam fogs up our mirrors and unclogs our pores. Yet, there’s always the lingering thought of a bath. Allowing ourselves to marinate in hot water that turns lukewarm after a short period of time. This is a private place; a place where we can escape for hours on end, and no one would know.

We all got in trouble at one point for filling up our tub with too much soap. We take mounds of bubbles in our hands and try to look like Santa Claus. We let the water run for so long that a wave forms, towering over us, about to concave. Our parents laugh it off, but we don’t know how long that cleanup is for them, nor do we help. We never wanted to mop away the bubbles, we wished they stayed there, making play time last forever.

We had bath toys. Fish. Mermaids. Any aquatic creature that would be able to handle the waves created by our pruned fingers. We wished to be like them. Able to breathe underwater, swim for days and days, look up to the surface and try to understand how different it is to be on land; a place where everything is constantly evolving. We used to play mermaids in the bathtub, pretending we were lost at sea with nowhere to go, nothing to do. The thought of that sounds scary back then, but man it doesn’t sound as bad now. We let our imaginations run wild in the tub. A confined pool of water that could be anything if we put our minds to it. But when was the last time we played mermaids? When did we stop tipping our mom’s body wash in to create walls of bubbles? When did we know our innocence was gone?

We look at the tub as a place of self-care. Light some candles. Sip a glass of wine. Dim the lights. Get lost in the vapors that rise as we let the scorching water hug our curves. We like to imagine if someone else was in that tub with us, holding us, caressing us. We wish to feel them molding into the water that clings to us so sensually. It wraps around us with big arms and tells us “You’re beautiful, you’re safe, I’m here.” This is a place where company is welcomed.

This is a place of solitude. A place where we know only a few bodies lay in it before. It’s selective in that way. Before we dip ourselves into the depth of our minds, we look in the mirror. We look at our bodies. How they’re shaped. Connecting the dots of our birth marks trying to a find a pattern. Placing our hands on the spots people have touched before, telling us how beautiful we are even with our imperfections. We look at our mirrored selves and wonder if there will ever be a day when someone will understand this vulnerability. The tub does.

The tub does not speak, but still takes us in and cradles our body with its acrylic curve. We allow our thoughts to run free. Whatever comes to mind is entirely valid; nothing is as outlandish as it seems. The tub listens. It keeps these thoughts held within its frame, never to be revealed or discussed. The tears that fall from our eyes add to the baby blue water that wraps around our necks. The tub chokes our thoughts out and drains them into oblivion. The tub feels. We sink our bodies into the water and hold our breath to see how long it would take us to break the surface, gasping for air. The tub tests us. How far can we go? How long until we reach our breaking points? How long until we move from this full tub to an empty one, which will be lowered into the ground with flowers thrown to our sides and figures dressed in all black turn away? Break. Two minutes. We huff and puff until we reach our stasis once again. We love testing ourselves, don’t we?

Sometimes, we aren’t aware of how much water is filling up the tub before it’s too late. We hear the water hit the ground and immediately think of the next best method of approach. Start draining? Turn off the faucet? Grab towels? While we contemplate, the water continues to slip over the edge. We can think of many analogies that cause this sense of panic: not realizing what we’ve done before it’s too late. We think of relationships we’ve had and the unexpected ends. We don’t realize when the last time we said “I love you” was, and now we’re being forced to fall out of love, just like the water is right now.

As Nan Goldin looks at herself in the mirror, I see me. I see myself in the most vulnerable state I can be in, undressed completely in front of a mirror; I’m aware of the marks that taint my body. I see a version of myself that isn’t happy where she is. What could I have done? What did I not do? The walls are the shade of blue that takes the same hue as a mostly filled tub. There is no water in her tub though. Our tub, I should say. Nan and I had someone with us in this tub before, but they’re no longer here with us. They held us in ways no one else could. They spoke to us like we were the only thing that mattered. What does it matter now? They are gone. Whether it’s someone we played mermaids with or someone we gave our bodies to, this tub now looks emptier than ever before. We know our lives led us to this very moment, choosing to soak in a tub rather than stand in a shower. We choose to be nothing for hours, letting the water cool down as we sink into oblivion. But we always come back, and the tub will be there listening, feeling, testing.


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