Tracey Emin’s homecoming – erotic or romantic?
Tracey Emin is coming home. She may have defined her younger self by rebelling against Margate – and only realised her true potential once she’d moved away – but the former bad girl of British art is now returning to her home town to open a major new exhibition as an internationally-celebrated artist and Royal Academician.
She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea is installed throughout the now one year-old Turner Contemporary’s suite of first floor galleries. It includes embroidery, drawing, monoprints, painting, neon and sculpture, most of it done over the last year. And if it does represent Emin’s return home then that return is triumphant.
On entering the show, the first thing you see is a gallery hung with work in Emin’s signature blue, which here makes us think of the sea in the show’s title. Although this could be seen as representing some kind of vast exterior force overwhelming the individual self rather than an actual sea.
In the next two galleries the colours are much more subdued and markedly different to what we’ve seen before. The atmosphere also feels different – more mature and again, subdued. Compared to Emin’s recent survey shows in London and Edinburgh, She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea is more lyrical and poetic.
Click here for more images from Tracey Emin’s new exhibition.
As you work your way through the exhibition, you discover that it may be billed as exploring themes of love, sex and eroticism but love is definitely at the top of the list and romance even makes an appearance. There’s much less anger on show, less of the spidery lines scratched so heavily into the work. Most of the lines here are softer, less definite, almost flowing into each other.
In one section of the show, Emin’s work is shown alongside sketches by Rodin and Turner. And it’s fascinating to see the difference between female nudes by male artists and those by a female artist. If anything, the work by Rodin and Turner is much more erotic, much more about sexual desire, than the work by Emin. And although her show may be billed as one of erotic art, I didn’t get the impression at any point that the work is created to incite a lustful response in either male or female viewers. Tracey Emin is her own subject – and her own viewer. This is auto-erotic rather than simply erotic art – the artistic equivalent of masturbation.
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But at the same time, what’s perhaps most interesting about She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea is that it has a greater sense of universality rather than the intimacy or individuality we’ve come to expect from Emin. What many of us love about her may be the heavy strain of autobiography and personal experience running through the work but there’s much less of that here. Perhaps surprising when you consider that the show represents a return to her home town, the town that helped shape her as an artist and inspired so much of her early work – work which documented her sexual experiences, abuse, abortion and depression.
But perhaps the key to understanding She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea doesn’t lie in the show itself but just outside the gallery. Next door to Turner Contemporary, over the entrance to Droit House, stands I Never Stopped Loving You, a work in pink neon which serves as a poetic love letter from Emin to her home town. She may have had to escape Margate but it will always be her first love.
A love which emerges so strongly in this wonderful new show.
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