BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 03 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 27

Tracey Emin

BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 03 SEP 96

Emin sits as moral governor of her universe, in her museum, on Thursdays and Fridays - or by appointment - merging her personality with the circle of her works. More a Pantheon of Self than a museum, this exhibition must be qualified as being only one aspect of a unity of works, taking place over a period of some years.

The space itself is attractively pastel. It is unlike either a museum or gallery as we usually understand them, and is pretty. It looks rather like an upmarket dress shop - those special exhibition spaces of the female. A pink neon tube inside announces the name of the museum.

This exhibition, like previous and future intended works, involves documentation of Emin's misadventures relative to the gods, demigods and fabulous or unfabulous personages of her life. It is an ambitious classification of all knowledge of her tumbling soul, which is individuated into emotional properties. Throughout the astutely inventive marketing and retailing of Emin product, the principal item remains the same - the performance of herself. She is a dervish who enjoys a whirl: a Monica Blewitt against the art world's Hughie Green.

Emin describes a life of both organic and contrived incident, whose details differ, but whose passions are representative of us all. She honours her illustrious dead and alive, inters them - and then digs them up again in passionate therapy. Her suffered indignities - her abuses, domestic tragicomedies, failed aspirations and lost foetuses - are described in a self-deprecating rumination. In her book Explorations of the Soul (1994), she relates these to the usual ideal objects of the art world in a process of cumulative storytelling using diaries, letters, personal detritus, family photos, appliquéd text and autobiography.

The first section of the museum, 'Part of What Made Me What I Am - Margate', presents a video, Why I didn't Become a Dancer (1995), of her teenage vaginations in Margate with some unpleasant males, named as Shane, Eddie, Tony, Doug and Richard. The video is proudly vulnerable and redemptive. Accompanying it are unframed monotypes. Of these, Margate Circa 1978 (1995) cheerily demonstrates an unfashionable facility in hand-drawing skills while depicting further genito-recreation and abuse in an English seaside environment - sugary dysfunction taking place between dispirited bodies. Happily illustrative, with a bittersweet line, the monotypes are reminiscent of drawings by autistic children.

Emin has crafted a line between unconscious autism and an alert professionalism - a sort of ruthless vulnerability. She succeeds because of her spirited personal communicativeness and charisma. Thus, the work is often dangerously conditional upon her presence. Without her, there is a sense of exhaustible credit in the work - of impending artistic auto-toxins battling intolerantly with her artistic auto-immunity. This may be the foul part of Yeats' 'foul rag and bone shop of the heart', with which a comparison may be drawn.

It is a signal achievement for Emin, and a pleasure for us, to have her art in her museum and her museum in her art - and the door open to passers-by. Emin's small repository in Waterloo Road discreetly indicates more of the healing theism that is sought these days, usually in vain. Here, art has become a little more serviceable to a greater goodness. Within a Pantheon of delicate personal choices, Emin shows a way for art to serve the need for supplication and worship, part of its ancient impulse, lost in the usual art of the perfect enclosure of despair.

Neal Brown is an artist and writer based in London, UK.