Thursday, 16 April 2015

346 MY BED (1998) by TRACEY EMIN

TATE BRITAIN until June 2016, then Margate and Liverpool.

Art is not a viewing platform, it’s an experience. TRACEY EMIN

There is a centuries’ old tradition in Europe of confessional writing, of secret journals and diaries where young women in particular could express their spiritual explorations, confess their sins and face their deepest hopes and fears.  You could argue that Tracey Emin is part of this tradition and that in the last couple of decades she has used not only text but also paintings, drawings, embroidery, video and installations to re create, reflect on and memorialise her past. 

My Bed 1998 has now been installed as part of the newly rehung displays of the Tate’s permanent collection. She describes it as a self-portrait. She opens the door into her council flat in Waterloo  and we stand in her bedroom looking at stained sheets, used condoms, worn panties and empty bottles of alcohol, testimony to a devastating weekend she experienced after the breakdown of a relationship. 

We are now more used to hearing and seeing ‘confessions’ than in the 1990s. They sell well. But ‘true stories’ and their illustrations are often  branded, manicured, touched up, crafted to titillate and shock. In contrast, Emin integrates her work and personal life in such a way that she establishes an intimacy with us, the viewers. She reveals that she is as insecure and imperfect as the rest of the world and her candour helps us explore what that means for us all. 

Reflecting on what has happened since The Bed was first on display, she says: “With history and time, the bed now looks incredibly sweet and there’s this enchantment to it. I think people will see it differently as they see me differently. And there are things on that bed that now have a place in history. Even forms of contraception, the fact that I don’t have periods anymore, the fact that the belt that went round my waist now only fits around my thigh..' The Bed sits in a gallery with two of Francis Bacon's paintings - his 1951 Study of a Dog and his 1961 Reclining Woman -  as well as six of her own drawings which she gave to the Tate to mark the occasion.

She is a consummate story teller. One of my favourite pieces is a 6 min 40 sec video ‘Why I Never Became a Dancer’ (1995), where she describes leaving school at 13, and what happened at the 1978 British Disco Dance Championship. It is ‘the true story about growing up in Margate – the adventures of teenage sex with older men – dreams of becoming a top disco dancer.'  Tracey was good, really good. ‘And I started to dance/people started to clap/I was going to win/ and then I was out of here/nothing could stop me/and  the final humiliation which eventually lead to total triumph'. What is exceptional about her work is her anger and honesty, and her vitality, untainted with self-pity or humility or doubt.

The Bed 1998 helped Emin win her Turner Prize nomination in 1999, and was bought a year later by the collector Charles Saatchi. According to the artist, Saatchi once displayed the piece in the dining room of his Belgravia home, surrounded by 19th century baroque silver tableware.

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