When I first went to the Hayward to see this exhibition I was ready to cringe, to be disgusted and as a man; be held in utter contempt. I expected to see the works that to draw in the masses of young, angsty women and teaches them that all men are cruel, misogynistic, wife-beating rapists-in-waiting, and I fully expected to pay dearly for the experience. I walked in through the doors, was charged £9, and began to warm up the muscles in charge of making my eyes roll.
I walked through the big doors into an immensely long room; along the entire length of the closest wall was hung about 10-12 of the famous Tracey Emin blankets. I though that this was a good idea; ease people in with the easy stuff, the pieces that people can relate to because even if they don't understand the work, they can still read the text.
That was the last delusion that I had had about the work becoming some kind of gender-based demonisation. It began to become clear to me that Tracey Emin, despite her rough nature, and reputation for the strange and angry is actually quite a calm, lucid individual. Her work may be based in a child-hood so far removed from my own experiences that I was unable to relate directly, but I still was able to very much enjoy the experience.
I had originally surprised at the entry fee for the exhibition; reflecting back on all of the free galleries that I had been given access to back in Newcastle..My thinking therefore being that all that awaited me in there was a single white room with some small, unintelligible works on the walls and some miniature bottles of that cheap French beer lined up on a table. I had also not read the entire article about the exhibition before planning my trip; it wasn't an exhibition of her new work, it was to be everything that she had ever made.
I could not have imagined a more perfect was to introduce me to the world, work and mind of Tracey Emin; someone who has never seemed to have had a problem saying exactly what she thinks, expressing these thoughts in words or in the (highly-valued) art that she makes. I was to be shown everything, and because they were not displayed in chronological order it allowed me to see past her evolution and growth as an artist and appreciate the expressive nature of the works, as well as what they were telling me about Emin herself.
As with all artists in the public eye who will not restrict their content or materials to include that which is appropriate, she has been picked on by the red-tops, general conservatism and tabloid reporting until she has had this image built around her of someone who is some kind of overpaid degenerate or pervert who shows everyone her old, soiled tampons that she has been holding onto for a couple of years. Unfortunately the tabloid presses are still working under the premise that the world works like the playground back at school, and therefore who is or does something that is weird (or just if you don't like or understand it) should be pointed out, condemned and ostracised immediately, and unfortunately I never took the time to check my sources and had therefore been misled (and, technically ignorant by default).
The exhibition was a true eye-opener about the possibilities of art as a completely personal project, as well as a form of expression and of healing. Nearly all of the work drew me in, and made me think, whilst telling me the story of a skinny little girl from Margate, but due to the enormous amount of work on display I was unable to linger too long over any one piece and so was unable to get to grips with it all, although I did manage to spend a good few hours wandering around in there. Many thanks, Tracey; a thoroughly enjoyable (due to quality, not entertainment value) experience, and I am very sorry for misunderstanding you for so long.
I too went through this process of ignorance by default and then realisation that I actually really like Emin's work. I don't read the tabloids but I do get influenced by friends opinions and they get influenced by tabloids. Maybe we should not only check out sources, but check our sources' sources. Ha! This didn't just happen with Emin. I am constantly feeling pressured to hate Damien Hirst and naturally at first I went with the crowd, it was a few years later that I learned that I actually quite like his work. These naysayers cite several reasons, all of them logistical; for example "he doesn't even make his own work" and it is fine for them to require that from an artist. But for me personally it doesn't matter. And that's the core of this discussion. What matters to you. When you acheive a moment where you and the art are isolated together and you manage to explore and reveal your own true personal opinion it is very valuable.
Of course the aftermath of such an experience can be hard. Arguing in defence of these popular hate figures does nothing for your street-cred in the immediate term. People that hate Emin turn against you for liking her. People that like Emin turn against you as well! But this time for treading on their territory. The latter group seem to feel a sense of ownership over their alternative opinion as if no one else has the right to break from the norm.
Good post, I enjoyed reading! Thanks
Martin Joiner 1334 days ago