The many faces of Tracey Emin: A Fortnight of Tears at White Cube Bermondsey to 7 April 2019.
Emin bursts into White Cube Bermondsey with a powerful show of work spanning painting, photography, film, trademark neon, larger than life bronzes, and a selection from her archives.
Emin’s life could be likened to a soap opera. Rape, abortion, large numbers of sexual partners, hedonism and drunkenness, shame, humiliation at the hands of others. Emin’s private life was deemed up for public discussion after she used it in her art. She became an enfant-terrible of the tabloids, a celebrity artist of the confessional. Appearing in public drunk and disorderly, swearing, pissed on Channel 4, flouting the stereotypes of what was appropriate behaviour for women. My Bed, while it didn’t win the Turner Prize, is perhaps the most famous work of any that has been nominated.
Emin escaped the Margate life mapped out for her by economics. That of being a mother of two children by the age of 17, living a council flat. She went to college, attained first class honours, completed a masters degree and was appointed Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy, one of the first two female professors since the Academy was founded in 1768. However, her work has concentrated on the more dramatic and personal elements of her life. A Fortnight of Tears, named after the period of time she spent crying after the death of her mother, shows maturity, explores pain and loss of loved ones. Absence is key.
Mostly covering work made over the past five years for the show, we start with the Insomnia series where Emin records the absence of sleep. A continuation of Emin’s practice of photographing herself, these insomniac selfies are blown up and exhibited on the walls of the room. The many faces of Tracey Emin, they depict a range of emotions from despair to pain to laughter, and everything in between.
Emin says, “I talk about my life and my experiences because I know for an absolute fact that it’s helping some 16 year old girl, or some 14 year old girl, who went through the same experiences as me. And I think for a long time I’ve been misunderstood. People have been willing to bully me and deride me because they didn’t want to take on the issues that I was talking about. Whether it was rape, abortion, bullying, losing self respect, suicide, whatever it may be. Illness, insomnia, even.”
Tracey Emin is angry. And we all should be. This is a world where people are just beginning to discuss the coercive infrastructure women live under. Where it’s normal for men to use sexual abuse to subordinate and frighten women to do as they say. Where rape and abuse is normal currency. Emin refuses to sit back and let this go unnoticed. She paints it. She shouts about how this makes her feel.
In ‘They Held me down while he Fucked me’ Emin addresses the abuse that was common during her childhood and the absence of control or accountability for the perpetrators. She says: “When I was 13, two of my friends, one of them a girlfriend who was 13, and her boyfriend, who was 19, held me down while his mate fucked me. Because they thought that I needed to lose my virginity. Not knowing that I’d been raped about four months before. In Margate – not just Margate, loads of places – there was an expression. It was called ‘being broken into’. You’d see a girl in the corner, crying, in the playground at school, and you’d say, ‘What’s wrong with Susan?’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, she was broken into last night’. And they go, ‘Oh, was it Ralph?’ and they go, ‘No I don’t think it was Ralph. I think it was Pete that did it. No it was Pete and Ralph, they both did it.’ And that would be the end of it. That would be the end of the conversation. That girl is still walking around in the world wondering why she is fucked up.”
During the photocall, Emin seems annoyed at the photographer, who is directing her where to sit. She asks him to look at the work. To show how the huge bronze figure fills the room. ‘How can you fill a room with love,’ she asks. ‘What makes a loss?’ The rooms are filled with absence and longing. Her mother, a lover, a child. How do you paint what’s not there? How long can you cry for?
Tracey Emin, A Fortnight of Tears, White Cube Bermondsey. To 7 April 2019.
Gallery / Exhibition info:
Tuesday – Saturday 10am to 6pm and Sunday 12-6pm
144-152 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3TQ
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