Tracey Emin: Her life in art

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

An anxious, exhausted but delirious Tracey Emin says her new show at the Hayward Gallery is the culmination of everything she's ever worked for

It's 7am. My eyes are open but the rest of me can't move. My body feels like it's being crushed, my bones slowly ground down through some giant mincing machine. I am very tired. It's just four days until the opening of my show at London's Hayward Gallery.

It isn't just the installation and the physical work that's so exhausting, it's all the decision-making: moving this here and moving that there; changing that a fraction; praying to God that this is going to stand up OK; keeping fingers crossed that none of the neon lights has hairline fractures; hoping that X and Y come back from the framers on time; looking at a piece of work I haven't seen for 10 years and trying to remember how it fits together.

There are more than 170 works in the show, and some of those can have up to eight components (or more). At a rough guess there could be more than 500 pieces to hang. All of these works are in crates and, as they are unpacked, the crates start to disappear from the gallery. It's a slow process, though, and for a long time you are looking at what appears to be a strange metropolis – a wooden city within the gallery. It's only now, after two and a half weeks of installation, that my show is starting to reveal itself to me.

Along with the physical exhaustion there are two other extreme emotions: anxiety and excitement. Neither of these helps when it comes to sleep. One minute, I'm deliriously happy, like a bride about to be walked down the aisle; the next, I'm wondering whether I'm making the biggest mistake of my life.

This show at the Hayward is the biggest moment of my life – everything I've worked for, everything I believe in, everything that's ever mattered to me, is going into this show. It was four years ago that Ralph Rugoff, the director of the Hayward Gallery, asked me whether I would like to do a show. I said yes immediately. In fact, I jumped up and down, and said: "Yes, yes, yes." Unlike my usual response to requests to do shows, I didn't have to say: "I'll come and see the space, and we'll discuss it," because I know the Hayward Gallery inside-out.

I lived in Waterloo for 10 years in my tiny co-op flat. With it, I got a free pass to the gallery. I'd often spend hours roaming around, getting to understand the space. I'd visit almost every show and without actually judging the work, would try to understand how the space had been used to its advantage, depending on the artist.

I also started to understand that the space was not masculine, as people presume, but instead very feminine. All the galleries have a different atmosphere; the Hayward's staircases are round, and there are many corners and secret viewing places.

Not everything is obvious, either. A number of the galleries are square and even though the ceilings are very high, the squareness makes them feel comfortable and cosy. Also the Hayward Gallery has terraces that give amazing views across London. To me, this means I'm home.

But exhibiting at home leads to another set of problems: I'm exposed to more criticism and judgement, and there is a higher level of expectation. This is where the deep anxiety comes in. I don't want to be slagged off as I walk through the village square.

Sometimes, to relax in my studio, or wherever I am – the kitchen – I play music really, really loud and I dance like a banshee. And when I'm alone, I dance with the furniture, I dance with the walls – nothing is really inanimate, everything has meaning, everything has soul, nothing is static.

It was during one of these moments, as I whirled my way around to the Marc Bolan song "Planet Queen", that the title for my show hit me: Love Is What You Want.

It's from the chorus: "Love is what you want, flying saucer take me away". I really relate to the flying saucer part. Sometimes I just want to be lifted, or hurled, and for everything to be OK. I've never run away, I've always faced things head-on. There is a lot of responsibility to being an artist and as I get older, that responsibility comes at more of a cost. That's why this show is so precious to me and means so much.

The defining image for the show is a still-image taken from some film footage shot in 2000. I'm running around the streets of east London, naked, flying a Union Jack above me. I wanted an image for the show that was very British, but also something that would represent my kind of Britain.

My show opens at the same time as the Southbank Centre's celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. Britain has always celebrated culture and the arts, and I feel very proud to be part of a country that, in terms of its creativity, has come a really, really long way. I just hope that over the past 20 years, I have too!

Tracey Emin: Love Is What You Want is at Hayward Gallery to 29 August (www.haywardgallery.org.uk; 0844 875 0073)

Reader offer

How to buy an exclusive edition of 'She Lay Down' (2011) and 'Laying with the Olive Trees' by Tracey Emin.

'The Independent'/'i' has secured 20 copies of 'She Lay Down' (2011) and 'Laying with the Olive Trees' by Tracey Emin exclusively for readers at the guaranteed launch price of £550 (normal price £650). The edition, specially commissioned by Counter Editions, are lithographic prints on Somerset Velvet 300gsm paper. Produced in a strictly limited edition of 150 by Paupers Press, London, the prints measure 55.5 x 72.5cm, and are signed, numbered, and dated by the artist on the front. They are also available framed (£750) in a half-white tulip frame measuring 60 x 79.5cm. The edition is offered on a first-come first-served basis from today, Monday 16 May. To buy 'She Lay Down' (2011) or 'Laying with the Olive Trees' (2011) log on to www.countereditions.com/independent and enter your special Independent/i readers' code TEIND20 at the checkout. Delivery within the UK and VAT are included in the price. Alternatively you can order by calling Counter Editions on 020 7684 8888, Mon-Sat 10am-6pm.

Delivery is by UPS courier and is within 10 working days for unframed prints, and 28 days for framed. For full terms and conditions about this offer, see the Counter Editions website, telephone 020 7684 8888 or email mail@countereditions.com.

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'