Tracey Emin


Things that hinder artistic production:
Bourgeois mainstream critics
Wondering whether your work is good or not

Ever since Tracey Emin first shook up the British art world in the mid-1990s, rampaging through it in a fragile drunken rage, she has remained one of the most fascinating and controversial of the current crop of conceptual artists. She has consistently provoked a storm of contention, exposing her body and her inner self with searing honesty in a variety of media.

This year will see two major retrospectives of Emin’s work being put on by the rival top art venues in the UK, the Tate Gallery and Saatchi’s new showcase of contemporary art on the opposite side of the Thames. She also has major shows in Australia, Rome, and Istanbul. Additionally, 2004 sees the launch of her designer luggage with the French luxury brand Longchamp, and the premiere of her first feature film, Top Spot.

Emin’s work has played with the world of words from the beginning, and it has often been through language, as opposed to images, that she’s shocked her critics. She avoids enigmatic titles such as Untitled IX; instead we get And then you left me—Left me cold and naked (1994), a title more substantial than the flimsy print that accompanies it. More memorable perhaps was Emin’s tent, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995, with the names of everyone, from her twin in the womb to countless lovers, embroidered painstakingly inside. As she said in 2001: “It’s my words that actually make my art quite unique.”

Her first published text, Exploration of the Soul, dealt with similar themes. The Tate Gallery called it “a poetic but frequently harrowing account of her sexual history.”

This interview took place one bitterly cold winter evening. Tracey visited me at my home, and while my brothers got drunk, we had the following conversation.

—Stephan Collishaw


THE BELIEVER: Are your writing and your art autobiographical or are they fictional? Would its being autobiographical make it harder for you to deal with the criticism?

TRACEY EMIN: With a lot of the things I’ve done, I certainly wouldn’t lay myself on the line and say that’s the absolute truth, because it’s my memory, and what happened between that moment ten or fifteen years ago and now… there’s a lot of gray area. What matters is how I choose the material and put it together.

As far as truth is concerned it’s very difficult to say what is and what isn’t true. What is truth? Truth doesn’t really exist. Who is going to judge whether my experience of an incident is more valid than yours? No one can be trusted to be the judge of that.

With any story I write, I could actually write it from three or four different perspectives, which would end with a completely different moral at the end. It’s really difficult to decide what to do now. Before it was really simple, I was just going to write a story. Now I sort of think, “Uh! Would it be more useful if I made it more fictional?” Then, on the other hand, would I be doing that just because I’m afraid of what people have been saying or how much I’m going to get attacked?

The idea that I’m going to have to sit down to write some fiction where I’m going to have to think of a plot and things would really scare me, because then I think it would come out a mess. If I’m just giving people the truth, then it’s really easy. But we’ll see, won’t we?

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Stephan Collishaw lives in Nottingham and is a teacher. He won an art bursary for The Last Girl which Newsweek International called “a spectacular novel.” His new novel, Amber, will be published in July 2004.

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