Tracey Emin: She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, review by Emily Gosling
‘Art is like a lover. No matter how good the lover is, it’s not going got be good every time’, says Tracey Emin at the opening of her new show, She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea.
Though perhaps unintentionally, the statement forms a fitting analogy for the show at Margate’s Turner Contemporary Gallery.
From her words at the press conference, it’s clear that the Mad Trace from Margate of the 90’s has given way to a woman preoccupied with age, menopause and loneliness. There’s no familiar sour remembrances of promiscuity-and-rape-on-sea. ‘The girl is gone - she’s never coming back’, says Emin.
While this stance of maturity and breaking free from the tropes of the messy, emotional trauma of the video works and scattergun installation pieces that made Emin’s name, there’s a sense that ‘the girl’ is still very much in the wings. Emin talks about having ‘fallen back in love with art again’ - looking outside herself and to Picasso, turner and Rodin for inspiration, yet no matter how hard she tries, her work is (for better or worse, however you see it), very much rooted in the self.
The titles are characteristically bleak - ‘A Million Miles Away I Miss You’; ‘How it Feels to be With You’; ‘Dreaming That You Were There.’ The word ‘love’ recurs again and again - I Love you; I Loved You; So What I love You - but only serving to expertly highlight the primary feeling evoked - its absence.
It goes without saying that for many, Emin’s Plath-esque confessionals have been reduced to base red-top headline fodder - a perception her public persona has done little to assuage. However, in her simple blue or black on white markings, there’s undoubtedly a lyricism that belies the brash, alcohol-fuelled bravado.
‘Sex’ is a series of 27 masturbatory watercolours, and notwithstanding the works’ profligacy, they’re quietly evocative. Despite their homage to eroticism - there’s little to be found in them that’s erotic. Sexual, yes; but the gulfing negative space in both the composition and the glaring omission of a lover means they are not a fetishistic turn on. Rather, they’re a symbol that the only love in them is self love : it’s a celebration of self sufficiency rather than a love that’s shared or given. She’s prostrate and vulnerable; naked and exposed.
This central tenet of loneliness is reflected in the crude sculptural pieces dotted around the space; and no more so than in Dead Sea, a cast bronze branch on a filthy Heal’s mattress. The stick weighs heavily on the bed, its isolated encumbrance an emblem of a sexual past Emin feels cannot be revisited.
Another highlight is the four large embroideries in black towards the end of the show, a sombre take on their smaller, blue predecessors. It’s perhaps the desolate realisation of time, and indeed tide, waiting for no one. There’s a prevailing sense of disquiet about the future - one that at the moment, Emin envisages as uninhabited by others, expect of course, her ‘soul mate’ Docket the cat.
It’s a solipsistic homecoming- but what did we expect’ Surely that’s, in all honestly, want we want from an Emin show’ Her influences are worn on her sleeve ‘and no one else’s - and more often than not it’s the sleeve that takes centre stage, rather than its esteemed artist-influenced accouterments. ‘I’ve shown enough of myself to Margate in the past’, Emin says. And it seems she’s reticent to start covering up now.
She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea runs until 23 September at Turner Contemporary Gallery, Rendezvous, Margate CT9 1HG