Yesterday, I went to the Hayward to see Tracey Emin’s exhibit “Love is what you want”. I didn’t know what to expect after Brian Sewell’s scathing review (he clearly doesn’t like Tracey Emin or her work or both); nonetheless, no matter what people might think of her work/persona, I still have a lot of respect for her and her  art practice.

While I waited for my friend in the foyer, I read a few of her articles (I didn’t know she had a column in the Independent!) pasted on the walls (I didn’t know she is also a skilled writer!). Of course I’ve heard of her, and even seen some of her work in various places (Frieze, Hauser & Wirth, a recent BBC piece, etc.) and until today, what really stuck was her notorious bed (Turner Prize) and her equally notorious drunken behaviour.

Anyway, I had a good look around the exhibit and took my time to READ and soak in what the artist had to say through her films, sculptures, wall pieces (can I call them quilts?) and written pieces.

Tracey Emin, 2011, installation view, 'Love is What You Want', at Hayward Gallery London. Image courtesy Photo David Levene
Tracey Emin, 2011, installation view, ‘Love is What You Want’, at Hayward Gallery
London. Image courtesy Photo David Levene

Ms Emin is a gifted story-teller, I think.. and what strikes me is that subtlety has a power and strength that in your face sometimes can’t achieve (e.g., pale beige-y embroidered blanket, light colours on light). The other blankets are a bit “shouty” – definitely having something to say but could be missed in all the “noise”. With the light-coloured blankets, I found myself lingering, moving to view more closely, just in case I missed something. It was beautiful and sad, and I loved it.


The stories I found to be a bid sad or maybe melancholy is a better word. I got the feeling of desperate longing (she says “for a fuck” but I really feel that she wants something more… the ultimate… she wants what everybody wants, that is love). And this longing seems largely unfulfilled, at least at the time the works were made.


Yet I don’t feel pity for the artist; more of a brief understanding (yeah, me too, I’ve been there) and a little bit of pride, some kind of sisterhood (good for us, we got through it didn’t we). And a bit of hope – as an artist and has a human being, she has worked really hard to get through, to overcome. Along the way, she’s had successes and has fallen down a lot, and picked herself up every time to get where she is today.  Haven’t we all!


And I realised, the amazing thing is that I don’t know her personally yet I can relate in some way to the artist through her work (and you don’t have to be a woman or an artist to do so).

More links and info

The exhibit is on until 18 May through 29 August 2011 at the Hayward Gallery, SouthBank Centre, London.