Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'I cannot believe that the body is capable of making such ugly, beautiful things'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Fire storm. It's 4.30am. I'm lying in my bed in room 242, flicking through all the channels, keeping up to date with the fires as they march their way through Southern California. I can't sleep. It's not jet lag. I just have far too much on my mind. As night becomes day, my mind becomes just a little bit more frazzled. It feels as though I have no peace. All of me has been shaken violently without my knowing, and inside I'm left with an unexplained, giant, peptic fizz, forcing its way up through my body and busting out of my left eye.

I spent the weekend in New York, but the Saturday I missed completely. I lay in bed in a darkened room feeling slightly lost and frightened. I'd spent most of the day again vomiting violently. My last offerings were a strange kind of jelly with a red, furry fibre that lay in the bowl of the sink. I cannot believe that the body is capable of making such ugly, beautiful things.

Apart from the Saturday, my weekend was quite hectic and mad. On the Friday, as I came in from the airport, giant sheets of grey rain thundered down, giving me a feeling of deep depression. I checked into my hotel then wrapped up, in a sense of confusion, and trundled through the rain to visit the artist Louise Bourgeois.

Her house looked somehow dark and ominous. I stood on the steps and looked up at the windows. They looked dark, very grey and slightly dusty. I rang the doorbell. Gerry, her assistant, opened the door. On his face he carried a big wide smile. We passed comments on my journey and the rain. As I walked through the hallway of the house, everything seemed to become greyer. Not darker, just grey, almost as though the colour had begun to disappear.

He took me through to the back parlour room. The first thing I saw, on the floor, were bright shocking cerise watercolours – about 10 of them. Organic joined figures jumping wildy from their paper, from their bright pinkness into the surrounding grey, into the ever-growing greyness.

Then Gerry introduced me to Louise. She sat at a plain wooden table, which, even though it was wood, also seemed grey. She was dressed in a very thick ribbed jumper (grey). Her face looked exactly how I thought it would look. I froze for a second – I suppose a second of shyness, as I realised I had never met such a distinguished female artist before. Also, I had never met anyone that had reached the age of 96.

The first thing she asked was whether this was my first time in New York. I said no, I had been many times. She sort of shook her head, and then spent the rest of the conversation speaking to me in French. I can't speak French, so Gerry had to translate. She was a little bit gruff with me. I showed her pictures of Docket; she thought he looked nice, but she really wasn't that interested. She was much more interested in the text of my catalogue. She wanted to know about Rudi Fuchs, and did I know Nick Serota?

There was a brief discussion about male curators, and then the conversation drifted off into quietness and silence. With a lot of force she asked: "Stuart Morgan. You know my friend Stuart Morgan?" I was drinking a glass of wine at the time and the bottle had been retrieved from the corner of the room, and the strange thing was, I felt the wine was special. Then when Louise asked me about Stuart Morgan, I said: "Yes, I know him. He's my friend. He's dead." All along during this conversation, Louise's friend and documentary-maker had been filming us. Louise asked: "How do you know Stuart?" I told her that he was one of the first people to write about me seriously. He was also the first person to put Louise Bourgeois's work into a contemporary setting at the Tate. She smiled and said: "Would you like to see Stuart?"

I went off into a slight daze and remembered the last time I saw him. We had gone to the Ruskin School of Art, where Stuart taught, and I was given a lecture for a day. Stuart by this time was virtually blind, but it was a big secret – he thought he might not be allowed to teach any more. We joked and mucked around as I made Stuart take photos of me so that I could show my Mum that I had been to Oxford. Of course, the joke was that with Stuart's eyesight I probably wouldn't even appear in the photos. I loved Stuart. He was so funny but so fucking serious when it came to art.

Brigitte, the film-maker, said: "We have a film of Stuart from when he came here to visit Louise. Would you like to see it?" Stuart's face then appeared in the room, filling up the entire TV screen. His eyes were very wide and just staring, his face almost blank and expressionless. Subtitles appeared on the bottom of the screen: Louise speaking in French, telling Stuart to smile. She gets quite aggressive, telling him again and again. After a few moments Stuart cracks and starts to laugh. I started to laugh as well. Then I realised that the camera was on me and I realised that I was sitting in the chair that Stuart would have been sitting in. I had gone to visit and pay homage to a woman of 96, but there we both were, enjoying and remembering the wonderful laughter of our friend. As I left Louise's I wondered if one day someone would visit her and they would see a film of me, laughing.

Tracey Emin is in Los Angeles preparing for her show.

Comments