Tracey Emin. Hayward gallery. June 11 2011.

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this exhibition. I’ve never really been a big fan of hers – mostly because I have had no reason to look beyond the tabloid headlines about her. I’ve never really been someone who likes really confrontational work. And because she was lumped in with Hirst (and his formaldehyde animals which puts my hackles up in so many ways) I just sort of poo—pooed her work.

However, Saturday was a big eye opener. Her work is still far too confrontational in many respects for me, but I can really appreciate now where she is coming from and her exploration of techniques and materials.Sadly, photography was not allowed. So no images to upload.

The first room had her blankets and beach hut in them. I was astounded to see how alike (at least in technique and form, if not materials) her blankets were to my Mapping the Territory. And I had never seen them before. I had heard she had done appliquex, but I didn’t know what of. Particularly Hotel International which was effectively her CV.

She uses lots of slanted stitches to appliqué the panels on top of one another, which are generally all stitched onto a blanket. Where panels of blanket or large pieces have been joined together, she has used blanket stitch. But folds the edges to make a neat join. Perhaps this is to make them even/straight to join well. This is certainly neater than later work. In Psyco Slut some pins remain in the work. They weren’t holding anything in place, they were just there.

In Dirty Girl there is circular text. There is no indication of where to stop and start this. This means you can make the sentence say what you want depending on where you start reading it, slightly changing it’s meaning each time. What does the text under the Eiffel Tower mean? They are all embroidered letters and next to them appears to be an egg. Does that mean they all relate to sexual encounters? To ‘lost’ children that the eggs never became? Or is it soething else entirely.

One thing I DO relate to about her, is her love of cats. In the piece she wrote wondering if she was pregnant she says she has never really been all at interested in children or babies. That going to see a friends baby is rather a chore. But someons call up and say they have a kitten and she’s round there like a shot. Exactly. I know how to make all the right cooing and appreciative noises over a baby, but really if there’s a cat or kitten involved, the rest of the world melts away.

In the piece Permission to Fire, the top half is so pretty. The worn out flag with appliqued flowers all over it. It’s loaded with political statements, but actually has no text. Perhaps it would be too twee without the bottom arguments.

Her blanket The Last Great Adventure has sketches drawn on cloth included in the panels. These are really nice and pepper well with the patterned fabric and messages.

Hellter F*cling Skelter. There is much more mis-spelling in this piece than there is in the others. It has started to seem more deliberate, though it is claimed not to be. The very (feminine) offensive c-word is in this piece, but it is cream ffabric on cream fabric. It is there, but disguised. So much more subtle and less in your face. I prefer it to creep up on me this way.

The beachhut and boardwalk really dominate the room here. It looks like it will be easy to get to the hut and you winder why you aren’t allowed to, then you see it s impossible. What look like structural supports are just barriers and optical illusions. From normal eye level it looks like there IS a boardwalk until you see the piece side on or underneath, when you realise there is nothhg to support you. From within the structure it is even more obstructive. You can see the barriers. They spike out in front of you like you would have to climb over spears to get there. From the very start of the structure, the hut peeps through the gaps in the wood, teasing you, but constantly out of reach. Even the ladders are so high up they are beyond use. From the side it all looks so easy. A little precarious maybe, with the odd gap to overcome, but passable. Underneath, at the start, it is unpassable. It is so nice that you can walk round the piece. You can really feel the work then.

It’s also really well curated that you can view the boardwalk and hut and the blankets from higher up on the disabled walkway. From here it seems like a really easy step onto the boardwalk, only to find it is no easier to navigate than when it were at ground level. It’s impossible. All so out of reach. Which is, of course, the point.

Family Suite II has the feeling I would like to get from my lines of ink on cloth.

Somethings wrong is all done in straight stitch with wool and has a lovely, sketchy quality to it.

Saying Goodbye to Mummy is pre sketched with pencil. It is then stitched with embroidery silk over the top, giving a slightly dirty feel to the colour, on a hotel bed sheet. This is a good way to reappropriate textiles! Shading is created in the sketched line by using different coloured threads.

Can You Hear Me is on the reverse of patterned fabric, using appliqué and pencil. Often the fabric used has been important to Tracey or her family and friends.

Asleep… Uses really shirt, fine satin stitch to reproduce the handwritten text.

It Always Hurts. Is a White/cream blanket where all the messages are tone on tone and are so subtle. I really like these for their undertsatedness. They are almost like a ghost of the previous work. Maybe it hurts so much it is White hot. Or maybe they are tone on tone as a way of repressing the things that hurt.

Some embroideries use a really tight blanket stitch. So creating a satin stitch with a sharp edge. Really good technique for replicating thicker lines and keeping some parts sharp.

Overheard someone saying “She should get over herself” in response to…. One of the White blankets or embroideries that had statements on it.

Thinking of You. Is tone on tone embroidery and retains the original embroidery from the reappropirated base cloth.

Harder and Better. This stitches on this piece are like machine embroidery, but they aren’t. They are black and slate grey stitches, with stray threads at the back and fabric that is slightly see through. Small, small straight stitch. The text is in satin stitch.

So what did I think of the show as a whole?

Whilst I don’t (generally) like her subject matter and/or vocabulary in my face, I can really appreciate her work. I’m not one for baring my soul in such a forthright manner, but the blankets and stitched sketches are just beautiful. The arguemented comments in the blankets are rather like my mind map (I wish I had seen this exhibition before I started that). I really like the use of handwritten pieces over the top of patterned fabric. Sometimes you wonder about the spelling. How much of it is deliberate or contrived? It is claimed to be natural, but in the later works I am not so sure as it is much more prevalent.

I know that in later in her career she no longer stitches the blankets or embroideries herself. This certainly shows in her later work which is much neater, more defined, refined and unobtrusive (where it was previously very obvious).

History of Painitng II. I hate this used tampon piece. I understand what she is trying to say in this piece – that everything we do, how we bleed, puke, anything could be regarded or construed as a piece of art. But these tampons are in turns: repulsive, uncomfortable and intriguing. At least the handwritten piece that accompany the tampons and toilet roll assist the piece and stop it from being art for arts sake. But then the cynical part if me wonders if this piece is not memorabilia, but more a clever marketing act? Used tampons on display as art is quite an outrageous idea and I suspect that Duchamps urinal must have provoked a similar response when it was first exhibited. Still, at least the urinal was clean!

Because it’s outrageous, pieces like these invite (often heated) debate. A huge amount of publicity and press coverage usually follows and both the piece and the artist become infamous. You have to ask yourself why such outrageous and controversial art become ‘successful’? Is it because these pieces stick in our minds? Is that the culmination of fine art these days: formaldehyde and used tampons?

Emin’s textile work, however, I find much more interesting and at times brilliant. Again, penises ejecting flowers is not really my cup of tea, or close ups of genitalia, but some I adore and are almost illustrative. The piece – I think it’s called ‘why are you afraid of death?’ – of a dog or wolf carrying a child is beautiful. I love the use of close blanket or even buttonhole stitches. And the handwriting which is done in satin stitch. There is a storybook narrative to this piece. It would not look out of place as an illustration for the Golden Compass or such.

I even like ‘Harder is Better’ despite it’s subject matter. The stitching is very fine and even. It is almost like machine stitching, but isn’t, it’s definitely done by hand. Subtle shifts in the tones of the thread used create depth as you would with coloured pencils. Still dint like the subject matter, but an appreciate it for what it is.

The neon signs I can take or leave. They are what they are – statements. The quilts and blankets I adore. The stitched pictures I aspire to. Buttonhole stitch would be very useful for reflections with it’s crisp edge. I ordered the TE book and one of embroidery effects from amazon after looking at them in the Hayward bookshop. They were (sadly) almost half the price. I would prefer to help the gallery, but the costs of the course and materials means having to cut prices wherever possible.

I walked along the South Bank with the intention of going to the Tate Modern, then across the millennium bridge to St Pauls to go up there to take arial landscapes. Urban landscape: made with artificial shapes and colours, but a landscape nonetheless.

I’d seen people on the river shore ar Gabriels Wharf the last time I was there around a year ago making sand scupltures. I wondered if you could get down there. Sure enough you can. I found a couple of mud larkers and asked them if I was allowed on the shore and whether I could get back up again at the Tate. They said yes and yes. They helpfully told me the tide was still going out and not due to turn for another hour or so.

The one thing I hate about this course is that I can’t just ‘go’ somewhere now. It’s no longer easy. Everywhere is a potential source of inspiration, for source material. It all needs to be considered now. I can’t just walk from a to b. Particularly along that shore!

Finds of the day there were coloured bands of shingle and wavy bright green silkweed in the sand. Done in a Tracey Emin stlye of stitching, this will be beautiful! Can’t wait to get some silks and have a go.

In the end I was all art-ed out and just gave the turbine hall at the Tate a cursory glance before heading into St Pauls and up the top before it closed. Nice clouds up there too. Sunburnt and exhausted again!

Still, I did see the naked bike ride on leaving St Pauls. Organised to highlight the perils of being a cyclist in a major city, the riders cycle naked to remind onlookers if how fragile they are in comparison to other road users. That perked me up a bit! 😉


One response to “Tracey Emin. Hayward gallery. June 11 2011.

  1. Hi Amelia- great review! thanks – am planing on seeing her show soon.
    I am unsure about her work too, altho I think I will like the textile-y things. One thing I have been quite impressed with is her writing; her “biography” and the articles she used to write for The Independent were really interesting – altho all about her (and Docket). She does talk a bit about her process and how she goes about getting ready to do her work, which I found really interesting and a little bit of an insight into how she goes about things.

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