May 28, 2024

Never Thought it Would Happen Tracey… Tracey Emin at Hayward Gallery

…but Love is What You Want made me feel all warm. The friend I went with said to beware my sensitive nature; there are warnings that those under 16 need to be accompanied by an adult. I’m 33 and I think I handled it all very bravely.

Yes, there’s female masturbation (shock horror!) in flickering line drawn form – nice not to see as many penises as the Antony Gormley exhibition of 2007 displayed – it’s not aggressive either, just sort of there. A short documentary on the exhibition has Tracey (can I call her Tracey? After all I’ve seen, I’m not sure, but it feels OK. Emin seems a bit too, you know) saying she’d “give them what they want – a room full of sex” but this is upstairs, reached after passing all the drawings of her abortion memories and the film How it Feels (1996) which sees her outside the clinic in which one was performed. The beginnings of her sexual experiences are covered in another film, Why I Never Became a Dancer (1995) a far more personal account than ‘that’ tent that was destroyed by fire. Rape is touched on. But it all ends with her joyful dance, saying, as ever, THIS is who I am, despite all that happened and because of it. All the suffering she endured because of sex, as well as the rapture is perused, perhaps lending the “sex room” a different light?

The first room of the exhibition has a number of the patchwork, embroidered, sloganeering blankets in amongst the concrete walls. This is just another medium for Tracey to relate to her past. I’m a slave to a bit of nostalgia myself and I find her use of fabrics from her childhood, things and words that mean something to her, very appealing. Like so much art, you need to understand the reason behind their creation to fully appreciate it, just as more is gained from the Renaissance saints when you know the symbolism.

The bottom and Union Flag image on the posters dotted around London is completely joyful to me. Another (male) friend said it was “the best use of the Union Flag I’ve seen for a long time”. But he’s obsessed with bottoms, so we’ll ignore him. The room of neons was moody, exciting and made me want one. I Can Feel Your Smile has stayed with me. OK, so I can be a bit of a magpie, distracted by shiny things, but the room had impact. It was bloody cool. The phrases they depict are to the point and, in a way, poetic.

I put a question to Tracey (Yep, I’m sticking with calling her Tracey) on the Hayward Gallery’s Facebook page…

“Hello Tracey. I visited the Hayward exhibition and, previously being in two minds about your work, I have been left with a warmth for both your work and you. How strange is it to have people forming opinions about you, almost feeling they know you when they only know their own interpretation of you? Is it something that feels negative, positive or changes from day to day? Or do you reach a point where you couldn’t care less what people think?”

And the lady responded…

“I always care what people think..I am very sensitive. Often I will come out fighting, snarling like a small whippet when under attack. But to be honest the older I get the fight becomes more difficult. People are nicer to me these days. I think it’s the longevity that helps. Also I’m nearly 50… not exactly a young rebel.”

Actually, I see her as a Labrador now, stealthily bumping up the numbers in A&E unlike a rampant, frightening pitbull.

The friend I went with was male and seemed to have a different experience; he found it a bit ‘me, me, me’, something I couldn’t argue with. He said being male perhaps meant he couldn’t relate as easily. I can’t relate to all her experiences, thankfully, but the egotism didn’t annoy me, though I admit it may annoy others. A few years back I’d have been pulling my hair out. Maybe I’ve accepted the longevity she mentions and the exhibition has stayed with me, much more than others I’ve seen recently. As I said, I felt (and still feel) warmth, despite the hype, despite all the preconceptions.

Hayward Gallery Southbank Wednesday 18th May – Monday 29th August 2011

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