Tracey Emin is an artist which has been the subject of fierce public scrutiny and whose work has been called ‘crude, primitive, uninteresting, ill-informed, objectionable’. She is said to be a con-artist who does not take her profession seriously.
The critique is mostly founded in the fact Tracey’s art is seldom built upon technical skill. She does what all of us could do – she makes a public display of her emotions and memories.
Her current retrospective ‘Love is what you want’ at the Hayward gallery put her work in context and guides us through her life. It includes neon lit statements, films, etchings, collected things and appliqued blankets.
Most of her work comes with accompanying stories and/or are integrating texts, phrases and words. She talks about her feelings from past experiences with sincerity and frankness. She is a witty and confessional storyteller who do not believe in secrets. Instead her interests lies in ‘cracking them open and revealing things – like Pandora’s box‘.
By showing herself vulnerable and telling us her most intimate stories she gives us something to relate to, which can engage and trigger our empathy to search in our own past and current feelings.
If all of us can do what Tracey Emin does, why don’t we? Why don’t we talk and express our feelings more often? Because it is scary and difficult, far more difficult than making public status updates of what we like and what we do. Because feelings are personal, uncontrollable and powerful. They lay ground for our thinking, behaviors and actions. Expressing strong feelings can be seen as offensive, it can make people uncomfortable by interfering with their personal space.
Emin’s strength lies in her bravery of showing herself vulnerable and her ability to get personal with the viewer: provoking a feeling is so much harder than provoking a though.