Paintings bleeding pink and red stare back at me from the clinical white walls of the gallery. ‘Why don’t you like us?’ They shout. In my head I can hear the same offended cry break the silence of the white cube and echo throughout its pristine rooms as I look on with growing dismay at Emin’s latest offering of blood, guts and middle-aged angst.
This is not a wonderland of female empowerment and creativity. This is a 'woe is me' trip down a rabbit hole of self-inflected doom.
Tracey Emin , now a woman in her 50s , burst into the artworld in the 1990s and has since been widely fêted for her confessional and brutally honest work. This show we are told is about her recent experiences of bereavement, loss, aging, love and life’s general cruelties. But this all has the look of a tired retrospective.
Emin it seems is endlessly trapped in a loop where she is fated to revisit the same issues over and over again, picking at her scars so that they never heal. She is modern Sisyphus repeating the same action for eternity without ever reaching release or contentment.
Crucially, she fails to update the ways in which she presents her ideas to us. We are watching a mature woman whose creative vocabulary has never quite outgrown adolescent angst and whose artistic skills also hit the pause button three decades ago.
The dripping, quickly scrawled figures? We have seen them all before.
Here they are repeated throughout as paintings, drawings and even turned into sculpture until their technical weaknesses becomes all too apparent and their initial emotional power becomes diluted.
The self-obsession expressed as insomnia selfies?
All too banal it the days of Instagram and Twitter. These photographs often feel forced and contrived. We get a peek of Emin’s nipple in one of her night selfies which just comes across as trying hard to meet the expected ‘nudity quota’.
Emin often refers to Egon Schiele and Louise Bourgeois as inspiration for her work. But Schiele’s drawings were an outstanding for their skill, beauty, originally and transgression. Bourgeois continued to innovate ,develop as an artist and created truly original work until her death. Emin’s art has always lacked actual skill and already has one foot firmly in the grave, as she seems happy to rely on past glory rather than innovate.
As we go through life and we all experience its up and down we also learn, grow and hopefully take time to also feel some of the joys of being alive, no matter how fleeting. Surely a 50 year old women has more to say about life than just wallow in its sadness? The endless exploration of pain feels like a self-inflicted curse rather than a rightful rage at the world that so often tries to silence women’s voices and control their bodies. Tracey Emin always had pathos but she also had humour and sass. I miss the irreverent Tracey.
‘How it feels’ ends the show, an early film shot in the 90s where Emin talks about a traumatic abortion. I find myself wondering why she had chosen to show this 90s piece, filmed as an interview, the artist wandering around London. The film is apparently 22 minute long. I walk out after about 10 once I tire of shots of Emin cooing over a squirrel. Many people gave up before I did. The room itself felt claustrophobic. I fretted when someone closed the door leading to it, leaving us trapped in what felt like a large glass coffin lined with black curtains. I push that door open with relief. I see from the corner of my eye a blond woman jump out of her seat and exist right behind me. She is trying to catch my attention.
- 'It is a bit heavy isn’t it?’ she says with an hesitant smile and continues ‘I am glad you walked out too. I mean, you have to be positive right? If something similar happened to you…you don’t want to keep hearing about it…’ she seems to be waiting for my approval.
- ‘Yes, I thought it was horribly repetitive and depressing’ I reply.
She nods, smiles again and we part.
As I walk away from the gallery the blonde’s words still echo in my head while Emin’s own have already faded out of my memory.
'A Fortnight of Tears' is on at White Cube Bermondsey until 7th April 2019.