Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

Venice was just so fantastic that I haven't stopped rocking since I got back on dry land
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The Independent Online

Mad brilliant week. Sometimes I have to pinch myself, like on the jet when I took a glimpse in the mirror to see my reflection with Ronnie and Jo Wood. The stewardess poked her head around the cabin door, with a quizzical look on her face as we all sat there quietly sipping our tea. The only bit of excitement was when Ronnie finished his crossword. Not really rock'n'roll as we know it.

The 51st Venice Biennale, so much art, so many parties, and millions of people. I wanted there to be ground rules (even though most of the time we were all at sea, hee hee hee). Everybody has got to go to bed early, because we have to get up early and look at some art - that is why we are here. I was lying by the pool when Lynn Barber told me off, in her often motherly style: "Tracey, you can't tell a Rolling Stone they can't party."

At the Venice Biennale there's a whole jargon to get to grips with. It goes something like this: "Have you done Luxembourg? I'll meet you at the Turkish. Don't forget to do Afghanistan on the way. The British pavilion rocks and the Australians have got it just right. Never found the Kiki Smith, the Pipilloti Rist is fucking brilliant, Which bag do you prefer? The Hussein Chalayan or the Gilbert and George? the Frieze party was fantastic - proud to be British. If you haven't seen Caligula, go back to Giardini - don't worry, I've got my own boat."

One of my highlights was trying to get Janet Street-Porter to miaow; she wasn't having any of it. In the end I was quite happy with any animal noise, but she wasn't. She wouldn't even join in being a meerkat on the boat, and she was wearing a tiger-print top. Cub Granet, as we now like to call her. Ooh, she's scary. And do you know what she told me? That I shouldn't write this column any more (I suppose she's got a point).

Go for gold

But let's get back to the art. The Venice Biennale is like the Art Olympics. Countries from all over the world compete with their pavilions, showing the artists they feel best represent them at that point in history. We did brilliantly with Gilbert and George. Their ginkgo pictures - images of Gilbert and George and the hoodies, graffiti from the area where they live - were spot on. And they'd thought about the pavilion so well. The work was powerful and sensitive at the same time. There was nothing gung-ho about it.

Another artist who represented her country well was Lida Abdul, from Afghanistan. She had shot a film in some weird Afghan landscape, where you see a women whitewashing the wrecked stones of monuments long gone.

I love going to Venice, because it reaffirms my belief in art, and as an artist, I cannot tell you how important that is. My only big problem is, since I stepped back on dry land I haven't stopped rocking - and I don't mean partying, I mean literally rocking. But it turns out I'm not the only one. Which is quite comforting but extremely disturbing when we are all in the same room.

I've only ever had seasickness once before in my life. I was with my dad, sailing from Mersin in Turkey to Cyprus. It was 1984, and dad wanted to show me the motherland. While he went to sort the cabins out, I went to the ship's bar and had a drink. Neat whisky as I remember. Some bloke next to me with an airplane collar kept on offering me a drink every 22 seconds and lighting my fags. God it was irritating, so much so that my dad, on arriving back at the bar, threatened to cut the guy's balls off and throw them into the sea if he so much as even looked at me again.

Ancestral voices

My dad had done something really smart. He had got us a cabin in the centre of the boat. But still I thought we were going to die. We were caught in the tail-end of a hurricane, and as I sat in the cabin, my dad told me all these magical stories about my ancestors.

My great, great, great grandfather was from the Sudan, a slave in the Ottoman Empire. As I listened I chain-smoked. Instead of my dad telling me off like he usually did, as an act of solidarity from the fear of the waves, he lit my cigarettes. And there on the box of matches were written the words in Turkish: "Meet me on the deck at one o'clock, when your father has gone to sleep." Boy did we laugh. I rocked for three days after that trip.

Don't look down

Today I am so tired, profoundly tired. I need to sleep for about a million years. But I am so excited. It is like the quote from Byron: "I am standing on the edge of a precipice, and it is a wonderful view."

Tomorrow I go to Basle, on another friend's jet. I have to get up at the crack of dawn. Why am I going? To look at art. I once had an exhibition called "I need art like I need God". Art has been my best friend, my spiritual guidance, and at the lowest times of my life it has swept me up and taken care of me.

Thank you, art. I love you.