Contemporary Art ETCs’ Sarah Wilson met Tracy Emin at the recent press launch of the artists first retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.
If you have never heard of Tracey Emin where on earth have you been hiding.
Tracey Emin is one of the best known artists working in Britain today. Born in London in 1963, she is a central figure in the generation of Young British Artists (or YBAs) that emerged in the early 1990’s and has produced some of the most memorable, compelling and iconic works of the last 15 years. Her autobiographical, confessional art has tapped into the mainstream of public consciousness, and has contributed to an unprecedented surge of interest in contemporary art in Britain.
Emin studied at Maidstone College of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, and has had major exhibitions around the world. She became a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 2007, and in the same year was selected to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale, the largest and most prestigious event in the art world calendar.
Unfortunately her notoriety means that practically everybody has heard of, or has formed an opinion about Tracey Emin and her work. A huge percentage of her work is biographical, we all know about her abortion, her rape and most of us have seen her slovenly made bed surrounded by used condoms, fag ends and dirty laundry – when it was entered as a contender for the Turner prize and exhibited at the Tate in 1999 tabloids ran competitions to recreate it using teenagers bedrooms stating the unoriginal “I could do that”.
Tracey spoke of her education, apart from passing her driving test every exam she ever sat was to further her knowledge of art. Although she destroyed most of her work after getting her degree it was not an act of defiance, it was merely because the college had nowhere to store it and she did not want them to destroy it for her.
Emin happily posed for photographs at the Press View and after a quick race through the exhibition there was a questions and answers in the room with her tapestries hanging in huge frames.
The exhibition is fascinating, it is a collection of 20 years work, there is a room with a wooden rollercoaster made in 2005 entitled “It’s not the way I want to die” and rooms containing huge tapestries of blankets. There is a huge collection of her mono-prints and some of her video work and neons. It takes up the entire ground floor of the gallery and is the first major UK retrospective exhibition of work by Tracey Emin. This exhibition brings together loans from private and public collections around the world.
We were introduced to Simon Groom the director of the gallery and Patrick Elliot, the curator. She talked about the logistics of hanging such a huge collection – it is an exhibition that has been 4 years in the planning (they were putting the finishing touched to it as we arrived), work had to be acquired from private collectors across the globe and shipped to Edinburgh. The gallery had supplied her with a model of the gallery space so she could work out the best overview of the layout – she kept the model and now stores buttons in it!
The tapestries had to be removed from the frames as they were too big to get through the main gallery doors but finally seeing them all together in one small room was brilliant. She talked about how (obviously) “all the work is about me” but explained that she was hoping to achieve a transferrance of ideas from her work – like with the tent – “when you crawl inside and look at everyone I ever slept with, you will come out thinking of everyone you ever slept with”.
She said that the course she did in philosophy was the best training she could have done for her art – as they are all about her ideas – I asked her about her plans for the meercats she made for the London plinth – she laughed and said that it was a bit of a joke really, she likes meercats and didnt expect her idea to be one of the final ones chosen she was glad it didnt win as she did not want to be remembered as the meercat woman and anyway, large sculptures scare her! And there was me believing the spiel that had accompanied the idea, that meercats are lookouts and would protect the city etc – she just likes meercats!
What people seem to forget is that Tracey Emin is a Contemporary Artist, her installations are the result of lengthy trial and error and are representational of the “idea” – the bed was a response to a certain time in her life, just because it wasn’t painted by Van Gough does not mean it is not art.
Press responses have been pretty obvious, “celebrity is more important than real achievement, self revelation more gripping than anything created by talent and a considerable imagination” perhaps if journalists were not so lazy and looked at the art from a contemporary point of view then Tracey Emin would actually be given the credit she deserves.
Tracy Emin 20 Years continues at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh until November 20th.
Sarah Wilson is currently in the 2nd Year of the HND Contemporary Art Course at ETC