Friday, 17 June 2011

Tracey Emin - "Love is What You Want"

Yesterday we went to the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre in London to see the Tracey Emin Exhibition called "Love is What You Want."
I am not a huge fan of modern art. I don't like sheep in formaldehyde. Damian Hurst et al don't do anything for me but there has always been something about Tracey Emin that has drawn me to her work. It may be because it's so raw, autobiographical and just sometimes outrageous.
Certainly when I saw a journalistic piece in the paper about this new exhibition I knew I had to go and see it.
What did I make of it all?

 I imagine her to be a very interesting person to meet. Probably one day she'd be the life and soul of a party and the next a depressing wreck. She comes across as bi-polar and desperately craving to be loved - the exhibition should be called "Love is What She Wants." I have no idea what a psychiatrist would make of her. She is very self-centred, her art is all about her - mostly the pains she has gone through but not much of the joy.

Some pretty harrowing things have happened to her during her life - she is a year older than me!
She experienced sex at a very young age - 13 years, she has been raped and had an abortion.
To get over the pain of rape she seems to have indulged in a reckless course of promiscuity.

As part of the exhibition you see the blankets which she has created - all made from fabrics from her past. She writes on various pieces of cloth which are then sewn on to the blanket and she also puts quotes in huge pieces of felt across the blankets.
Some of the written pieces are very poignant and very, very raw. You almost feel as if you are secretly reading someone else's diary which they have left open deliberately for you to see.

She discusses how she was brought up in a flat above a KFC and that whenever she sees The Colonel logo of KFC she always thinks of home.

She talks about the death of a neighbour and visiting her grandmother in a funeral parlour.
The most moving account for me was the harrowing detail of her abortion.

"When I came round in the recovery room I was crying and in pain. I couldn't believe what I had done, I had killed the thing which I could love most. Forgive me little thing. Your soul is free. Forgive me - leave me - The words kept going round and round in my head. As days went by I didn't get any better, the pain was worse - I became kind of delirious and my body began to swell.
I phoned the doctor - He was a Christian totally against abortion - All he could say was "What do you expect take some painkillers" I asked him if he thought God was punishing me and slammed the phone down before he had time to answer - something was tearing me apart inside. I decided to go to the hospital. My friend Gail called a mini cab. I put on my flowery shorts and top. I couldn't walk properly. I started to ramble - I felt a bit mad. I was trembling. As I got into the cab I felt something slip out of me down the side of my leg - I caught it with my hand - and held it there - And in amongst the London traffic and the city summer heat - I cradled a foetus closely between my palm and my thigh. Knowing it had never wanted to leave me." May 1990.

You can feel her pain but at the same time you want to shout "Why did you do it? Why?"

I found it so extraordinary that she wanted to share with the public something so very personal. Is it a cathartic exercise for her? What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and all that.

On the blankets that she's made there are some shocking words - to express the brutality of the things that have happened in her life. She comes across as a mad woman on a rampage. You expect to see her  wielding a knife madly tearing at stuff and not creating blankets that she's so carefully sewn together.
The blankets do not all express her angst but have some beautiful phrases,
"In Turkey we say when you learn to love a rose you learn to love the thorns."

In her 2002 blanket "I Do Not Expect" are the words "I do not expect to be a MOTHER but I do expect to die ALONE." It's all gut-wrenchingly sad.
Her talent is her pain ...
She is very needy of the public to share with her - her life's experiences. Things that people usually never want to talk about or only with certain people she wants to share with whoever cares to listen.

God I feel quite morbid having written this piece - it is all thought provoking stuff. Some of it is quite grim and not for the faint hearted. I think the Other Half summed it up when he said "She's damaged goods."
I suppose we are all sum parts of our past experiences. With Tracey Emin you however feel that when something has gone wrong she has gone on to press the self destruct button. She was raped and so she became promiscuous - by sleeping her way around she can expunge the pain of what happened. It's all emotionally gruelling and you feel that all she really needs is someone to accept her for who she is, warts and all but, you go away thinking it won't happen which is rather upsetting and so very very sad. You almost feel her pain.

One thing that did put a smile on my face during the exhibition was overhearing two little old ladies say the following to each other:
Lady 1 - "Well, what did you make of it all dear?"
Lady 2 - "I really liked the blankets, the colour choices were good - if only she hadn't put those foul words on them!"

And there we have the dichotomy - without the words Tracey Emin would not be famous - she would just be a woman at home making beautiful things!

After the exhibition we grabbed some lunch before making our way towards Liberty's and Carnaby Street before going to Trafalgar Square and from there to Big Ben and onto Waterloo Station to catch our train home! A very full day!

Until next time.


1 comment:

  1. That was a really interesting post - I was thinking about going but I'm not sure about taking my (rather sheltered) 14 year old daughter. I LOVE the comments you overheard between the 2 old ladies!


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