Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

'I felt like an ogre, a tyrant, but I knew I was right. It's just one rule - don't smoke in my studio'
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The Independent Online

A strange thing happened to me the other day - I completely lost my temper. I'd been out to a reclaimed woodyard in Barking. The woodyard was in a spectacular industrial estate, the kind of place that doesn't seem to exist in London anymore. Lonely Victorian warehouses dotted across the landscape. Canals interweaving and interlocking. Everything tainted with an industrial beauty. It made me want to get my sketchbook out. My sketchbook from 20 years ago. The sketchbook of the student who would draw a 30-second thumbnail sketch from the train window, seven stations every morning, from Strood to Maidstone. A Kentish path winding along the river Medway.

The woodyard was stacked with thousands and millions of planks. Eighteenth-century floorboards, American dancehall floors, the galleys of ships and walk-the-plank decking. Beautiful, complicated parquet, giant wooden girders salvaged from piers blasted away by hurricanes. A goldmine, an Aladdin's cave, and every piece of wood steeped in somebody else's past, and now some of this wood would hurl itself into my future. It's very simple: I use wood to make sculptures. Towers, stairs, spirals, rollercoasters, helter-skelters. But the wood has to be good.

It began to pour with rain. I drove back to the studio in a very good mood. I even managed to park the car myself. Declan, who accompanied me to the woodyard, wanted to have a cigarette. So we stood out in the street, under some scaffolding, to shelter from the rain as he puffed away. I understand for smokers how nice it is to smoke in the rain. That cold, shivery feeling, and the smoke kind of sticks to you like a solid film. You feel like you're an extra in some 1960s kitchen-sink film. Actually, now I come to say it, it sounds really vile!

I rang my studio door. I always ring my own doorbell, as I'm really lazy at getting my keys out of my bag. It also allows people to know that I'm on my way in. But on this occasion, as the rain poured down and I rang and rang, there seemed to be nobody there. But they were there - as I opened my studio door, two of my employees, in my studio yard, standing under my portico, standing on my decking, smoking their dirty, disgusting, filthy cigarettes.

It went something like this: "What the hell do you think you're doing? How dare you smoke outside the studio, in my space! How fucking dare you! And don't throw the book at me for speaking to you like this - you can have smelly clothes, you can have smelly hair, you can have lung cancer, emphysema, bronchitis. You can deny your children 20 years of your life but don't give it to me! I'm the one that smoked 40 a day and I'm the one who had to use every ounce of will power to give up! It's just one rule! Please don't smoke in the studio!"

My heart was beating and I was shaking. I felt like an ogre, a tyrant, but on the other hand I knew that I was absolutely right - just maybe the way I handled it wasn't so good.

Later on that night in bed, I realised that everybody who works for me smokes. I was trying to work out what would happen if I caught someone smoking in the studio again. Would I have to give them a written warning?

Then it occurred to me, the people who work for me are really good - I would have to end up firing them all and then where would that leave me? I started to laugh as I had a strong image of all my employees blowing smoke in my face and me not being able to do a damn thing about it. It's amazing in life what our tolerance levels are. I can be incredibly tolerant about the strangest, most outrageous things and other things just push me to the edge. I am looking forward to a blanket no-smoking policy all over Britain, apart from the hardcore, lose your tongue and your voice-box smoking joints.

So, back to the woodyard. I'm going to make five really beautiful towers. In my mind, they kind of represent a family. I'm also going to make some really lovely individual plinths. Each plinth will go with it's own individual sculpture. A papier-mâché bird, a group of porcelain phalluses, two tiny seals surrounded by cement and broken glass. I'm looking forward to making my giant expressionist paintings of the female nude. I'm looking forward to my show in Rome, my show in LA, the publication of my paperback, my 400-page coffee table book and my monograph by Tate Publishing. I'm looking forward to my trip to Hawaii, watching the giant surf, singing the theme tune to Hawaii Five-0 - da na na na, da na na na naaa. I'm looking forward to my annual trip to Australia where I get super fit, healthy and clean. You know what - I'm very busy. I have a wonderful life mapped ahead of me. So wonderful, it would be foolish of me to pay attention to the wrong things - the small and unimportant, the unnecessary shit that's thrown around in life. So, thank you everyone! Thank you all my friends who love me and adore me, thank you for making sure I'm OK. I'm 100 per cent couldn't-be-better!

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