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Tracey Emin: 'A Fortnight of Tears' Review – White Cube, Bermondsey

6 February – 7 April 2019

FREE entry


I have never quite felt the way I did when leaving the White Cube after Tracey Emin’s newest collection of work called A Fortnight of Tears. Stunned, somewhat, by the raw mix of life, death, love, sex, femininity and pain that I had just confronted. The breadth of its subject matter is mirrored by the number of forms that make up the exhibition. One that uses painting, sculpture, neon, film, photography and sketching to explore Emin’s story and often dark emotion.

Tracey Emin was born in London in 1963, and the exhibition marks an explosion back into the art scene after a four-year sabbatical. The deeply private issues addressed in her new work hint towards why such a break was needed, as the exhibition moves through the heart wrenching agony of abortions, a family death and the troubling nature of sexual relations.

Upon arriving at the vast space that is the White Cube, one begins by entering the Insomnia Room Installation (2018), and is instantaneously confronted by the openness of the artist. Surrounding the room are fifty blown up selfies of Emin, in bed unable to sleep. The stress of an insomniac at night is a feeling we have all felt before, and the size and multitude of these raw images induce just that. Their double-hung hanging and square sizing reminded me of the Instagram layout, and the raw, awkward images provided a stark contrast to the polished facades we are so used to consuming online.

Emin’s painted depictions of women line the walls of the next, largest, room of the exhibition. The work is striking; women’s faces are violently concealed with dark strokes of paint, sitting of the top of crudely sketched bodies. These women, like in I made you Happen (2018), are highly eroticised, lying with legs spread and breasts exposed. The sexual undertones result in a deeply uncomfortable sensation alongside Emin’s palette of blood red which drips from bodies, and fleshy pinks which shadow in the background. Works like And So It Felt Like This (2018) make for the most harrowing in this way, referencing the abortions she has experienced. The painting sees legs open, with aggressive scribbles of dark blue over the crotch. From it drips a chilling shade of red, between maroon and mahogany, emulating a woman’s pain as well as a tragic loss of life.

Curled up on the floor of the open gallery lie two large bronze sculptures of apparently vulnerable women. Feeding off the same concepts as the work preceding them, they appear choked in sorrow, yet strangely eroticised; a liminal space which blurs the foetal and sex positions. When I Sleep (2016) appears crippled by sorrow, frail and weak contrasting to its enormous size. I lay here for you (2018) is similarly feeble, but evidenced both by the name of the piece and the unsettling nature of its body pressed to the ground and rear end raised, is a separate tone of female subordination in relationships, and specifically in the bedroom. While in different positions, one appears to look at the other from across the gallery. Indeed, it is the intrinsic link between unhappy relationships and submissive sex to birth and the creation, and potential terminating, of new life, which haunts Emin and the air of the exhibition.

In The Ashes Room, Emin’s struggle with death with her abortion, as well as the loss of her mother, rise to the surface. Sketches hang on the right hand wall are accompanied by horizontal thoughts scribbled in pencil. Speaking of her unborn child, her words “How could I be so wrong” still echo in my head, and can be felt resonating in the room of other viewers. In the centre of the room is a short film, The Ashes (2018), channelling Emin’s bereavement focussing on a small box sitting at the far end of a table, warmed with sunlight. The box of ashes links to a number of pieces dedicated to her mother, including Bye Bye Mum (2018) which uses dripping paint and faint, unconstrained lines to depict a woman. Its lack of structure in comparison to her other paintings suggests the painful invisibility death brings – a whole person reduced to a box of ashes.

At the very end of gallery, you cannot miss the twenty-tow-minute film, How It Feels (1966). Easily one of the most moving short films I’ve ever seen, it follows Emin around London as she explains the traumatic series of events leading up, during and after her abortion. While truly chilling, it forces viewers to understand the level of emotion being expressed on the canvases behind the auditorium door, and makes the thoughts Emin shares with us all the more real. Lit up in neon lighting in the centre of the largest room are the words which have stuck with me, and I will leave you with...

“I Longed for you – I wanted you The only Place you came to me was in my sleep Too far for me to touch With time you slowly disappear The Distance of your heart”

I Longed For You (2019)

Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor

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