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Thursday, 14 July 2011

Love is what you need

I love everything in the Tracey Emin show – I’ve been twice now, and although the shock's gone the second time, the deep and poignant truths are just as strong.

I love her blankets with their intimate personal tales told in cramped handwriting; I love her fluorescent phrases glowing from the walls; her line drawings, as fragile and vulnerable and broken as their subject matter and her extraordinary artefacts, her chairs, beds, sofas, boxes.

But I’m going to pick out three things, two are films and the other is … hard to describe.

Why I Didn’t Become a Dancer, is one of those stories that speak of despicable injustice that turns it into triumph.  Tracey describes her early teenage in Margate and how at 13 she started having sex with older men.  It was free and fun, as indeed, by the sound of it, was she.  And then at 15 it started not being so much fun.  She was disillusioned both with these older men who shouldn’t have let her do all this, and fed up with Margate, and turned to dance as her escape.  She entered a disco competition which might have catapulted her away from the tedium of her seaside town.  It was going well, the audience was loving her, clapping, cheering, she knew she was going to win, then she heard a group from the audience and they were shouting, Slag Slag Slag.  Humiliated, she fled.

The film moves forward.  Tracey is dancing to You Make Me Feel, in an grand empty room, while the voiceover lists the boys’ names, “Shane Eddy Tony Doug Richard …this one’s for you.”  Tracey has transported herself into the stratosphere of fame and fortune, by talent, hard work, determination and personality, while they will still be strapped to the grim ordinariness of their lives, arguing with their girlfriends, shouting at their kids, hard up, no prospects, same low level misogynist attitudes skulking around their ugly heads.  Dressed in cut offs and a red shirt as if she’s just popped in off the street, a portable CD player in the corner, the clinching beauty is her smile.  She remembers the names of these men who should have known better, and they are, right now, the reason for her success.

The second piece I adore is the conversation that plays on the tiny TV set in the corner of the main gallery.  It’s between Tracey and her mum, presented artlessly, no interviewer, just someone with a camera, a little table and some chocolates.  Only four people can share this at one time, from headsets.  We are in the front room with them.  Mum is telling Tracey she would have been disappointed if Tracey had had children. It’s complicated, unusual, multilayered, touching truths that belong to all women.  But this piece of the conversation delighted me:

Mum:  If a cat slows you down, what would a baby do?

Tracey: You can get on a plane with a baby.  You can’t get on a plane with a cat.

Mum: Non-plussed silence

Tracey:  A baby grows up and makes you a cup of tea – a cat can’t do that.

Mum:  Are you sure about that Tracey – are you sure about that?

And lastly, The History of Painting Part 1 - used tampons, one little blackening thing in each of four perspex boxes, resting on a piece of toilet paper.  I’m not sure what it’s about, except it’s linked with pregnancy tests and abortion.  But I loved it, for its sheer brass neck. 

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