When Success Meets Controversy: Tracey Emin

In art|BOOK on October 9, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Tracy EminIn today’s society, we are not short of a range of differing artistic expressions; Tracey Emin’s installations to Banksy’s guerrilla-style graffiti to name but a few. Young British Artists, more commonly referred to as Britartists have revolutionised the modern art world with their conceptual pieces, pushing contemporary art to controversial heights. The stories behind these pieces have allowed such artists as Emin to become successful in the midst of artistic and moral criticism.

Emin’s childhood was filled with personal obstacles that lead to the creation and destruction of her works.  Her father abandoned the family while she and her brother Paul were still young and at the vulnerable age of 14, she was raped.  These events play a significant role in her ‘confessional’ art, allowing her experiences to surface.  The White Cube Gallery played host to her first exhibition, My Major Retrospective in 1994 displaying personal memorabilia consisting of personal photographs and photographs of ruined past works, which she had destroyed in reaction to aborting her unborn child.

Her most famous and confrontational piece is My Bed that was gruesomely laced with used condoms and blood-stained knickers. A group of Japanese tourists displayed their disgust at My Bed by jumping onto it and participating in pillow fights, however a significant number of people admired the Turner Prize nominee’s courage to be outrageously honest. Emin sells her own tragedies for the sake of art maintaining the ability to touch on issues common to all.  Top Spot (2004) is a film, which brutally documents Emin’s raw teenage experiences with issues ranging from sex to suicide.  Although the film was given a 18-certificate due to its graphic nature, it reflects on experiences from her own life that are applicable to all ages. Growing up in her hometown of Margate, it was normal behaviour to have underage sex. This is an issue with the majority of young people in today’s society, with underage pregnancies and increasing levels of sexual transmitted infections.   My Bed may well be a self-centred portrayal of human behaviours such as sex and mortality though it does not prevent individuals relating to these behaviours on a more personal level. It is her shameless need to expose the public to the secrets of her soul that has formed her reputation in the arts world.

In today’s celebrity culture where dirty secrets are aired on a daily basis, could it be argued that controversial art is simply imitating the harsh realities of life? If so, then what is so taboo about artists reflecting their own real life experiences? Although Emin’s work leaves it’s audience in a state of shock and confusion, her aim is to tell real stories that we can all relate to. For this reason, whether the work in question is viewed positively or negatively, honesty is both an artistic and personal quality that will never go undiscovered.

By Natasha Devan

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