REVIEW: tracey & me

It’s the last week of Tracey Emin’s Love is What You Want, a survey of her career at the Hayward Gallery and the exhibition (which has been running since May) closes this Monday. The end of the show (strangely enough – or maybe not) coincides with the news this week that one of her cheeky neon works has found its way into 10 Downing Street – ah Tracey, ever the self-publicist, with her Tory-gifting ways! It seems that even now, pleasingly,  she can still find ways to shock and surprise us (Tracey buying her way into the establishment/only way she can be ‘acceptable’ is by giving her work away?).

There’s enough in LOVE to raise a few blushes, but then you probably wouldn’t bother going along if you were easily embarrassed. Tracey’s major talent as an artist is as memoirist/diarist, exposing the private (parts) and representing  the female experience through the telling of her own personal story.  She does this physically in the exhibition with her long-legged and often gloriously nude body appearing frequently in self-portrait and making the subject of her work the perils and risks of living in a female body – pregnancy, periods, getting too drunk. To this she adds a strong sense of the sentimental and importance of memory with collections of trinkets and inky notes explaining the stories behind her work and roots of her inspiration.

Her intricately stitched blankets mesmerise because blankets shouldn’t be hung on walls, they should be keeping us cosy in beds. Instead she recalls historical tapestries and domestic quilting and layers over them the personal with her embroidered confessionals – there’s little comfort to be had under these covers. The darkroom of neons is arresting too, with more emotive phrases glowing out of the matt black walls.

A narrative of class>money>survival runs through the exhibition and to me that unmistakably drives her work ethic. The teenage Tracey after all is still here in films like Why I Never Became a Dancer and in the family photographs and letters.

I can’t imagine a world without Tracey – an artist without self-censure or self-consciousness or any notion of middle-class uptightness laid bare on her bed. This exhibition’s not perfect, but it reminds us that she’s the dirtiest, sexiest and funniest we’ve got – and there’s nothing shameful about being a woman.

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