Earlier this year I read Tracey Emin’s autobiographical book ‘Strangeland’ (check it out here). It contained all the details of her abusive, disturbing, unconventional and dysfunctional child and teenagehood – that have continued to inspire her art work as an adult.
Feeling as if I knew her quite well – I headed to the Hayward Gallery, London, last weekend to check out her retrospective: Love is What You Want. The huge exhibition – spread over three spacious floors, with parting walls to divide the various sections – includes swaths of text pulled from her diary. Her scrawling handwriting tells simple stories of trips to Cyprus to see her father, as well as of her traumatic experience of having a termination – and of other both menial and very serious events that have affected her.
Her ‘quilts’ are displayed – with misspelled phrases and sentences, words and diagrams – mostly with negative connotations – embroidered into the large, colourful quilts. There was so much to read, and so big-a-crowd trying to read it, that I glanced over them and then moved on to the neon signs. These signs summarise Tracey Emin’s work to me: Eye-catching, meaningful, solemn and provocative. They read such phrases as:
‘I promise to love you’
‘Those who suffer LOVE’
‘I never wanted to leave you’
…. and then there are some more explicit phrases, which I won’t publish here.
There are about four rooms dedicated to her film installations – one with a compelling commentary – and then there are cabinets with letters, photographs, memorabilia and more diary entries.
Someone I was with in London told me that he didn’t want to see Tracey Emin’s exhibition because her work is ‘obvious’ and he’s seen it all before. It was a retrospective – so there is a fair amount of work that I’d already seen – but there were also unseen works and installations. However, it was the way she had chosen to curate the exhibition gave new insight into the inner-workings of her fascinating mind. She is determined to divulge every last personal detail of her sometimes sordid past and this exhibition allowed her to do exactly that.