Tracey Emin: 'I've never shown in Spain before, and it feels very strange and alien'

My Life In A Column

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I'm sitting in Malaga, in the middle of my installation. It's freezing cold outside. Icy droplets of rain spit on me from afar as I scurry along the palm-clad avenues of this southern Spanish city. I've never shown in Spain before, and it feels very strange and alien. I look at my work with its sprawled text, paintings that say:

I FELL IN LOVE WITH YOUR DRAWINGS WHEN I WAS FOURTEEN AND YOU KNOW, I STILL LOVE THE WAY YOU DRAW

I WANT TO FUCK THE WORLD. C**T INTERNATIONAL. THAT WAS YESTERDAY TODAY I JUST WANT TO DIE

WHEN I THINK ABOUT SEX I THINK ABOUT MEN – WOMEN, DOGS, LIONS, GROUP SEX (AND I LOVE YOU ALL)

VOLCANO CLOSED

AND I TOLD YOU NOT TO TRY AND FIND ME

I could fill up this whole column with my words, and lines and sentiments from my work in the show. Layer upon layer, from simple to complex meaning. I wonder how it's going to work for someone who doesn't speak English. I wonder if the vibrations of my feelings will resonate beyond the language barrier. I'm not known as a text-based artist, but I should be really. Writing is the backbone of everything I do. The image can often be repeated, but the title is always new. And even though I consider myself some kind of hardcore expressionist, my writing factor can sometimes throw me into a mini conceptualist camp.

I'm sitting on a small camp bed with a duvet wrapped round me. I could very easily keel over and fall asleep. I feel a bit mentally pummelled. I should explain that the camp bed I'm sitting on and the duvet I have wrapped round me are two very convenient components from the work I'm installing at the moment: Exorcism of the last painting I ever made. In essence it's a fake studio. And after a day of climbing up and down ladders, hanging washing lines, pictures, drawings, paintings, throwing newspaper all over the floor, filling up buckets, knocking over brushes, unrolling countless home-made Yves Kleins, I transform a white-cube gallery space into a studio that looks like I have just finished working in it.

It's a brilliant, creative, timeless process which I really get a kick from but best of all, while installing big shows, it always gives me a cosy little room to run off and hide in, cocooned away from a big museum. The scary giant museum space that yesterday made me feel like everything I had done was worthless. My work looked weak and tired. I spent four hours frantically running around moving things, chancing things, pointing. I turned the whole space around, tweaking and sprigging until I felt it was good enough for me to go home back to my hotel.

I have a rule when installing a show that every evening when you leave, you must leave it as though you are never going to be able to come back. As though you would be judged on the last thing that you hung. That's the only way I can sleep. It's like being knocked down with dirty knickers on.

And then there is the strange thing about being in a strange city. All this work, all this of me, and I don't know a soul. It feels like I'm looking into a giant big vain mirror. My ego and enormity seem so ill-balanced with everything that's outside of the gallery. A genie stuck inside a bottle.

This will be another one of those classic occasions where I am resident in a city for a week and I see nothing of the city, just the A to B from the hotel to the gallery. My feet are swollen and ache as though I have walked a thousand miles when all I have done is endlessly pound the concrete of the gallery floor. Up and down, round and round, forcing square pegs into round holes. My show from Edinburgh is now here in Malaga. It was conceived to fit into a Scottish Georgian building with different shaped rooms offering varying levels of intimacy. And now I have a gargantuan white space in the shape of a horseshoe with ceilings seven metres high.

At one point, my work looked like it was about to float away and never come back. The travelling show is a strategic nightmare, but one that forces all artists into a more knowledgeable position – the experience is incredible. Nobody can tell you how amazing your work can look in one place and a complete bucket of shit somewhere else. You have to see it for yourself. But with the tweaking, the pulling, the pacing, the perseverance, if the work is good, it can work in any space.

My show opens tomorrow night. I don't really know anybody in Spain, let alone Malaga. I don't know what kind of party or celebration it's going to be. I haven't chosen the restaurant, I haven't chosen the people who are going to be there. It's like I will be in some strange place where everybody knows me but I don't anybody. But what I will know, and know so much better than before, is how much I love and care about my work.

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