Thursday 8 January 2009
Tracey Emin: 'My friend Gregor and I fell out when I miaowed during his inaugural speech'
My Life In A Column
So I managed to survive another Christmas and another new year. But strangely, only just. All the dread and the anxiety that I had about being alone swiftly disappeared for a number of different reasons.
A few days before Christmas I was struck down by some mystery ailment. It was a cross between the worst cystitis in the world and the whole lower half of my body feeling like it was going to prolapse. It came in spasms and waves of inordinate amounts of pain that reduced my body to a human bellows.
I had gone to a lot of trouble to make my local church look more Christmassy. The minister had given me permission to enhance and grace our beautiful Hawksmoor-designed Christchurch Spitalfields with candelabras and holly wreaths. The plan was to make everything atmospheric. I was very excited, as I had invited a number of friends over for Christmas Eve drinks. I was going to light fires and make soup and take everyone to the church for a candlelit midnight mass.
I woke up at 9pm with my doorbell ringing. I had gone to bed in the afternoon doubled up in pain and now I had to put on a brave face and bring out the Christmas spirit, which I did, I did very well. Everything looked festive and warm and cosy. The fires were burning and there was something innocent, almost childlike, in the air. That was from the outside. From the inside I was doubled up in pain and desperate for the vicar's last word, desperately waiting for everyone to leave so I could just curl up in bed and get on with myself.
Christmas Day I didn't wake up lonely. I woke up in slightly less pain. I made myself egg and bacon and took it back up to bed, turned on Radio 3 and nestled down to the soothing waves of Bach and comforting sips of Redbush tea. Docket snuggled up to me as I opened up the first page of Gregor Muir's book: Lucky Kunst: The Rise and Fall of Young British Art which covers the period from 1990 to 2000.
Six hours later I was feverishly turning page after page after page, stamping mental Post-it notes all the way across the book. My mind had been pulled back into an almost black and white art world of Britain, of fish and chip papers, roll-up cigarettes, carpeted galleries with hessian wallpaper and tiny little glasses of white, acidic wine; the art world, but not as we know it now.
Riding around London on my bike – a darkened, dampened, derelict Brick Lane, a copy of Time Out in my bag with little rings marked over every single possible contemporary art space I could visit. The early Nineties, everybody looking for something that wasn't there yet. Gregor's book describes those defining moments so well. I have been friends with Gregor for years, since 1991. I don't call him Gregor, I call him Boom Vision. Originally it came from Gregor Muir, as in Muirangi Boom, as in the song, as in Boom vision.
Even all those years ago, I was insightful enough to know that Gregor could see things that other people couldn't see. And even if they could see them, Gregor was the person taking the time to note them down. Gregor and I have only fallen out big time once during our friendship and that's when I drunkenly miaowed too loudly and too much during his inaugural speech as director of Hauser & Wirth gallery, at the opening of a Louise Bourgeois exhibition. My friend Boomer really has gone a long way.
But what's really good about going a long way is when you come back to those people you love. And all during Christmas and New Year, as I turned those pages, I was filled with the most amazing memories, and to Gregor's credit, his fantastic accuracy. Without wanting to make the book sound too pompous, I think that Gregor's anecdotal journey of 10 years in the British art world is a fantastic historical document. It explains really clearly and accurately what was happening at the time because Gregor was actually there. He's not an art historian looking back on events in art; he's recounting what he has actually witnessed. He also puts the YBAs into a very good global context, not just the media phenomenon but also the art that was actually being made at the time. My Christmas was spent full of melancholy, with lots of laughter and it really did help to take away some of the pain.
I've just come out of hospital after having keyhole surgery. I'm unable to move and I'm on some mind-blowing painkillers. My mental state is either high or asleep. I've emailed Gregor a few times to say, "Come on, hurry up, write another book." I also sent him a quote from Henry Miller, which goes something like this: "There were no appointments, no invitations, no parties to go to. There was no one to impress, we were young and free."
Here's one of Gregor's favourite extracts:
"Early one afternoon, just after the art fair opened its doors to the public, I spied Jay Jopling from afar walking down the central aisle with something slung over his shoulder. This something turned out to be Tracey Emin, who was so hung over she could hardly walk. As they got closer, Emin's arms started to flail and Jay put her down on the floor. On hands and knees, she proceeded to throw up into a corporate water feature directly opposite the Artforum stand, where a woman looked on in horror."
'Lucky Kunst: The Rise and Fall of Young British Art' is published by Aurum Press on 26 January at £14.99. Available at all good bookshops
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