A few years ago, I was actively working on a mammoth screenplay that dealt with controversial art, what makes it art, and who gets to answer that question. During the writing process, I had a blast doing research on contemporary artists. I don’t think I’d submersed myself in studying something so deeply since my high school years learning about the 1960s. Learning about one artist would lead to learning about another and another and another, and their work was so absorbing. I would start reading about someone in particular and then end up going down a rabbit hole of all sorts of art—from the offensive, to the beautiful, to both—until I’d realized that hours had passed. Names I’d never heard of flew at me, and I wanted to study and understand all of them. I still have binders filled with notes on the likes of Maurizio Cattelan, Gavin Turk, Jenny Saville, Damien Hirst, and Chris Ofili.
During this rampage of exploration, I came across a few artists who still stand out heavily in my mind. One that I remain fascinated by is Tracey Emin, a British painter, sculptor, photographer, and installator.
Tracey is known for many works, but probably mostly so for her found object work My Bed, which to me is one of the most intriguing pieces of art I’ve ever seen. My Bed is the result of a suicidal depression suffered by Tracey herself. After having relationship difficulties, she refused to leave her bed for about a week, creating a small disaster area of dishevelled bedding, body fluids, and unkempt trash. Once she removed herself from the bed, I guess she decided it looked interesting enough to become art. Her bed bore the war wounds of a shaky mental state and was presented as such: sweaty sheets, dirty underwear, slippers, toys, condoms, drink bottles, cigarette butts, and Polaroid photos are just a few of the items that make My Bed such a striking piece.
It’s always stood out to me because of how personal it is. Anyone’s bed is private, but one that has gone through something traumatic with its owner is something else altogether. Some may say it’s exhibitionistic, and maybe they’re right. I don’t know Tracey Emin, so I can’t say for sure. But the way I see it is that she decided to share an uncomfortable part of her life with everyone as a time capsule to capture not just the anguish of her own breakup, but of universal emotions which all humans experience. By showing us a very personal and embarrassing atmosphere, Tracey Emin builds an intimacy and effect with the viewer—which is all an artist can hope to do. She doesn’t terrify me, like, say, Marina Abramović does, but she does make me think hard about her work.
I want to keep writing about Tracey Emin because she’s really interesting, and there’s more I wanted to say here—she made a piece especially for Kate Moss worth thousands of dollars which ended up getting thrown away in a dumpster; famous museum owner Charles Saatchi himself installed My Bed inside his own home; two artists attacked My Bed once by jumping up and down on it; the piece inspired a designer clothing line, etc. etc. etc.—but this is already long for a blog post, so I’ll stop.
Just trust me: she’s pretty fascinating.