Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

Q: 'Do you feel you've given too much of yourself away?' A: Yes. And now I want some back...'
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The Independent Online

Emin: "No it wasn't, it was a warm and balmy evening, with a gentle autumnal breeze. I was standing in the Hollywood Bowl - right up front, left of stage. The Stones gyrated only a few feet away. Ronnie played hard rock'n'roll guitar as Mick blasted out the lyrics. Keith's jacket shone a million sequin stars. Charlie Watts' drum kit glided around like a Popemobile. Mini giants - gods of the 21st century - filling up the airways of the Los Angeles sky, and Cilla Black smiles and says: 'Eh chuck - this is a night to remember!'"

Interviewer: "Are you referring to a dream?"

Emin: "No, it was real. I went to see the Stones play last night. But sometimes I have to pinch myself to check that my life is real."

Interviewer: "You do seem to spend a lot of time living in a twilight zone. You speak of the dead, dreams, the paranormal, and other-worldly things, as though they are everyday occurrences."

Emin: "For me, they are everyday."

Interviewer: "Let's talk about your new show in New York. I Can Feel Your Smile. How did you arrive at that title?

Emin: "A friend of mine - her husband had died. Of course, it was very sad. She was very sad. A few months ago we shared a small joke together. She texted me: 'Tracey, you're so funny.' And I texted her back the words: 'I can feel your smile.' You see, I could actually feel her smile through her message, and I wondered if the dead could feel us, if they looked down and willed us to be happy, to be able to live without them."

Interviewer: "That's beautiful. Your work in this show seems to be very different, more personal, as though deeply private. Is there a hidden code?"

Emin: "One of my favourite paintings is a Vermeer. I think it's called The Love Letter. There's a kitchen and in it stands a maid with her mistress. The letter is being passed between them. I have spent days, weeks, years, imaging what was written. Who is it from? Who is it to? It turns me on, the heightened romance."

Interviewer: "So, you are saying there's a private code?"

Emin: "No, what I'm saying is that, at times, some things should be kept private, unspoken, to keep them special."

Interviewer: "This is a big departure for you. Do you feel that, in the past, maybe you've given too much of yourself away?"

Emin: "YES. And now I want some back."

Interviewer: "Don't you think it's too late? Pandora's box is well and truly open."

Emin: "I've always thought Pandora was a beautiful name, but I guess it's a bit loaded - and you'd end up being called 'Pan'. Names are funny things. I was going to be called Pebble, and my twin brother Django, after Django Reinhardt. I wonder how our lives would have panned out [pun]."

Interviewer: "Can we go back to the show? You made some quite ambitious sculptures. These also seemed to be a big departure. Pure abstraction."

Emin: "There's nothing abstract about them. In fact, they're quite literal."

Interviewer: "Maybe this goes back to your secret code."

Emin: "There's nothing secret. I told you, just private. I have nothing to hide. What you see is what you get."

Interviewer: "Yes, and what I see is abstraction."

Emin: "Up until the age of 11, my two favourite hobbies were lying on the floor in a small ball, bum in air, head on palms, dreaming of crystal formations. And, when I wasn't doing that, I spent a lot of time scouring the line of the horizon, waiting for tidal waves. Neither of these things are abstract, but as a drawing or a sculpture that's how they may appear. They are lodged deep in the recesses of my mind. I am pulling them to the foreground. It's in this way I want to change my life."

Interviewer: "And you feel you can change your life through your art?"

Emin: "Yes - by making art that gives me more answers. It's my journey."

Interviewer: What's your favourite work in the show?"

Emin: "Sleeping With You. One of the wood and neon sculptures. When I first moved into my house a few years ago, I tried to make a sculpture for my cat, Docket. Little spiral steps so that he could look out of the window. I called them cat spirals. In fact they're helixes. A magic spiral that resembles DNA that often shows up in sci-fi townscapes. It is a shape from my childhood. Of course, if I could ever get one to stand I would win the Nobel prize for engineering!

"The spirals are placed in a group on the floor, in the corner. And above them a wild line of neon, like a rip of pure energy. All my life I've been afraid of the dark. I have to sleep with the light on. I have nightmares that take place in the room where I am sleeping.

"Sometimes I'm so afraid, I can't sleep. I wake up and Docket is jumping around, going crazy. It's then I definitely know there is something in the room. What I just experienced was not a dream. A friend told me I must sleep on my right side. Keep my heart high. For years, in fact all my life, I've slept in a small foetal position, curled up tight on my left. My heart and liver squashed, shadowed by darkness, literal and emotional. And now, I am tired of the insomnia, the sleep deprivation, the nightmares and the fear.

"And through my work I have found a way to fight back. I LOVE SLEEPING WITH YOU BECAUSE NOW THERE IS LIGHT."

Interviewer: "Tracey Emin, thank you very much."