Tracey Emin: Love Is What You Want @ Hayward Gallery

Hayward Gallery presents a retrospective by Tracey Emin. Carefully selected and masterfully installed, the exhibition looks at Emin’s whole life as a performance, a soap opera in real time, similarly to The Truman Show. We see her art en masse as the long-running drama of her existence.

The exhibition starts with a selection of embroidered wall-hangings into which Emin stitches drawings, words and text. The stop-and-start, patchwork nature of these powerfully ugly textiles is a metaphor for the chaotic way Emin lives and experiences her life. The exhibition is incredibly intimate, from letters she wrote to loved ones, and the angry, desperate messages she embroiders on her blankets and those written in neon light signs, there is also a section of cowboy videos. As with all of Emin’s art, the signs advertise things that are usually left unadvertised, hidden or simply excluded because we are afraid or ashamed to express, say or even think about them. The trademark banners are embroidered with violent outbursts and inventories of sexual and emotional outrage. Self-exposure is the artist’s own method. Everything can be displayed, from her emotional wounds to her sexual needs, her nihilism and esoteric pathos that reflects her life journey. The show winds its way upstairs leading to a recent DVD projection of a woman masturbating on an endlessly repeated 20-second loop.

These appliqued blankets tell their own stories with a hint of melancholy:

“Why should I protect myself from you when you are the one that protects me”
“There’s no one in this room who has not thought of killing”
“I want an international lover that loves me more than the world”
“I don’t expect to be a mother but I expect to die alone”

Emin’s own grammar, own syntax, is the making of her personal art, the preserving of ephemera in small vitrines, the transformation of beds into galleries. And yet a 20-year retrospective is necessarily edited, even when it is as large as the one at the Hayward Gallery.

This show certainly suggests a different Tracey Emin; more witty, more studied, but also less raw than what we are used to. There is no anger here, but sorrow, depression and sadness. Emin is daring to expose her soul so completely that it is hard not to relate. This is the best show she has had, at least in terms of presentation. Expertly curated by Ralph Rugoff and Cliff Lauson, it represents the melodrama of her art with a fully theatrical installation.
|Kostas Prapoglou