As it’s International Writing Day, I thought I’d honour this by writing a post about a lifelong love: Art. Sure, this covers a huge scope of disciplines, so I have merely plucked out a piece of work that has always resonated with me. The thing is…
I have a weak spot for Tracey Emin. Her piece entitled My Bed is one of my favourite contemporary artworks from the 90s. It is so often dismissed as an eye-rolling what-is-the-art-world-coming-to piece of work. It is instantly judged and condemned and villified because of the perceived lack of effort that has gone (or not gone) into it. And therefore misunderstood.
I didn’t wholly get it myself at first. But if I learned anything during my arts education it was to suspend judgement, to glean some kind of narrative, check for layers of meaning, messages meant or unintentional, the multiple scope of interpretation a piece of art holds. It’s easy to dismiss something you don’t understand.
My Bed is a visceral snapshot of the artist’s life during a period when she was suffering a black depression after a relationship breakdown and could not get out of bed for four days during which she drank only alcohol and ate nothing. The bed itself was her anchor, something real that got her through that dark time, the only thing that actually kept her alive, because as she describes it in an interview a few years ago, she didn’t want to live. She resided in that bed during her depression until it finally lifted and she was on the road to healing. She regards it fondly as a friend that was her bedrock until she reached that turning point. The I’ll-hold-you-as-long-as-you-need-me-to kind of friend.
And would you not be grateful for whatever got you through such a time, inanimate or not? I’m not sentimental about material things but I do regard the bed as a place of reflection, recovery, healing, protection even. (I’ve even written a poem entitled An Ode to My Bed which you are welcome to read here. Needless to say, I do prefer crisp clean sheets myself).
When you’re sick, you go to bed. When you’re depressed you stay in bed. When you want to relax or recharge, you lounge on your bed. It’s a place of comfort, escape, reassurance. A thinking place. She stayed in that bed until she consciously or unconsciously thought herself out of her depression. It was a transformative place for her. I feel this. I understand her choosing to present this whole installation as a piece of valuable art, for its moving story, for its hopeful desire to help her continue existing.
I also love that she hasn’t sugarcoated it, has presented it completely untouched and disgusting as it was at the time. Dirty covers, fag butts, worn underpants, condoms, the remnants and debris of a life barely getting through it all. It’s truth. It’s relatable. It wouldn’t be right to have it all cleaned up and made more palatable for a gallery audience. Hence, it’s more controversial. And all the more notorious. Which in turn makes it all the more famous. It was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999 and didn’t win but it’s the one everyone remembers. In 2014, it sold for £2.2 million, buyer unknown.
Contemporary artist Craig Damrauer expresses the perception of modern art like this perfectly in his New Math series (example below).
I like the fact that it must be painstaking for the artist and curators to recreate the precise positioning of each item every time this work is shown. I wonder how an artist must feel when a work like this is both in demand to be shown and absolutely loathed at the same time. The psychology of that is fascinating to me. Still, no groundbreaking artist ever got anywhere by caring what people thought about them. They just have to stay true to their work, that’s all they can do. It will bring someone joy somewhere and that’s the point.
And Emin has always been a love-hate character. You’re either in one camp or in the other. I’ve seen her exhibitions on more than one occasion and all I can say is she moves me. Her letters, her neon works, her disturbing drawings, her unabashed expression of self.
That’s all I have to say about Tracey for now. Feel free to share your own comments about her work below.
As always, I thank you for stopping by 🙂
© N. Nazir 2020
3 thoughts on “And Now to Bed with Tracey Emin”
Sunra, what a wonderful essay about artistic spirit. I admire her courage for sharing such an intimate part of herself with others.
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Thank you so much for popping by and reading, Lisa! ❤ Appreciate that. Yes, she has a raw honesty I like 🙂
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You’re very welcome, Sunra ❤
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