Sunday, 19 June 2011

Tracey Emin - 'Love is what you want'

This afternoon Graham and I had a mini holiday swanning around our home town which also doubles as our capital city, London. After we'd had lunch in Islington we abandoned our original plan of joining in the World Literature Weekend because we would have been too late getting there having spent too long in the Compton Arms setting the world to rights with some friends from Union Chapel.

So we jumped on a bus heading towards Waterloo and got off near the South Bank Centre. We decided, since we were there, that we might as well go and see Tracey Emin's exhibition Love is what you want. Neither of us have been what you'd call mad fans of her work but we were prepared to give her a go, so to speak. And the exhibition was amazing.

If the job of an artist is to shed light on some aspect of the human condition that often remains concealed Tracey does that in spades. She mines her personal history and puts it on display for all to see and it's often very confrontational and painful to look at. She is described as a natural storyteller and she says of herself that 'writing is the backbone of everything she does'. She creates blankets with appliqu├ęd words sewn onto them which recount episodes from her family history. She works in neon too so her words are lit up in pinks and blues.

She's made short films which are both funny and poignant and being short deserve watching more than once. Her output is staggering and it includes sculpture and drawings, large and small and collections of memorabilia. I'm often tempted, when visiting an exhibition, to skip over some items and leave with a general view. But in this exhibition I found I was drawn into her work and left feeling emotionally wrung out by the descriptions of sexual abuse, abortions, looking for love, losing love, living alone, the loss of fertility and seeing her beloved Nan's (grandmother) dead body for the last time.

Following this we needed therapeutic coffee and cake and headed to the Members' Bar in the Festival Hall nearby where I made the sketch below. Thanks Tracey, great show!
View over the river Thames from the Festival Hall