Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

'I remember being curled up on an armchair in some sleazy flat while everyone was doing drugs'
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The Independent Online

I'd like to start this column off by saying: "Guess where I am?" But I'm not sure if I should, in case it sounds a bit puerile. Then again, it's fun to be a little on the childish side. So, guess where I am? Yes. Folkestone. I've just hijacked the office at the Metropole Gallery. That's the wonderful thing about being a celebrated artist in the British Isles. Whenever they're needed, office facilities just throw themselves at you!

I'm here on a recce to mark out potential sites for a public sculpture. So far, I've set my heart on a rusty old bridge that cuts the harbour in two. Little boats lay dotted around in the sand. And, incredible though it is, the bridge has a visitation of the Orient Express every Thursday afternoon. Today was my lucky day, and later on I'm going to hang out in a cave. A 19th-century grotto folly. I could create the whole of Mother Shipton's world.

Mother Shipton was born over 500 years ago. Some said she was a witch; some said she was a prophet. She was born in a cave by the river Nidd. The illegitimate child of a servant girl. At the moment of her birth, it was reported that there was a giant crack of thunder and the smell of sulphur filled the air. The child of the devil had been born... If you visit the cave of Mother Shipton, you will be blessed with child. Stalagmites hang side by side with baby boots.

Could I recreate this moment for my public sculpture? Maybe some postmodern, hardcore, Seventies feminist-type thing. A performance? Me on my back in a cave. Assistants dressed up as druids. A small fire burns in the corner. A cauldron bubbles away. And I writhe around the floor naked as the druid assistants splash pig's blood over me, and I scream: "I AM NOT THE DEVIL'S MISTRESS!"

Last time I was in Folkestone was in 1978, under very different circumstances. I was 14. It was night. And a friend who was considerably older than me, but nevertheless a very bad influence, had persuaded me to take a taxi from Margate to try to meet up with a group of Margate boys who were hanging out at some new disco in Folkestone.

She persuaded me to get in the taxi and go on the 30-mile journey knowing full well that neither of us had any money. I remember sitting in the back of the car and the further we went, the more I started to panic. I'm not going to lie about this, but I am going to lie about her name. Let's just say her name was Jean. Jean who should have known better.

The taxi driver kept asking: "You girls do know where you're going?" Jean was black, very attractive with massive lips and a super-giant Afro. She would often have three boyfriends going at the same time. She and her friend would go to restaurants and arrive at separate times. They would both order from the menu separately and after eating, one would slip out the back door and the other would deny all knowledge of knowing the other person. Constant scam, after scam, after scam. Shoplifting was about as far as it went with me. But Jean was in a different league of dishonesty.

As we drove in the darkness she kept saying to me, through gritted teeth: "When the car stops, we run!" I was wearing really tight drainpipe jeans. (Looking back, maybe they didn't look so pleasant on a certain part of my anatomy - really tight!) Also, an extremely high pair of open-heel, open-toe, silver stilettos.

Jean said to the taxi driver: "Just pull over here."

"Here" was a dark cul-de-sac with an alley, and I realised that Jean had probably done this many times to taxi drivers. As the car came to a halt, I said to Jean: "No - I'm not doing it!" And as she went to jump out the car, I saw she had a knife in her hand.

My heart pounded, as I had a strong, clear vision of Jean slashing the taxi driver's throat. I held her arm and froze as she struggled with me. The taxi driver had twigged by now. The fare was £6. I had started to cry and was trying to give the taxi driver my address. It was at this point that Jean did a really weird thing. She handed over her watch. The taxi driver said we were lucky that he wasn't going to go to the police. Jean and I made our way to the nightclub. Winter. No coat on. Open-toed shoes. Jean was shouting at me, saying everything was all my fault. We found the boys. I just remember being curled up on an armchair in some sleazy flat while everyone was doing drugs. I could hear Jean in the room next door having her brains shagged out. I remember thinking: what a price to pay.

It makes me wonder if some people are born bad. Or whether through circumstances they just become something terrible. I have never intentionally tried to hurt someone, or carried out some premeditated act. I did used to daydream about putting a lighted newspaper through some girl's letterbox when my boyfriend of the time was having an affair. So glad I didn't! But I do have a wonderful imagination. Sometimes we have to conjure up revenge as a matter of survival. Just for release of the mind.

When I was 14 at school, my favourite subject was drama. "Ooohh," I hear you say, "surprise, surprise!" Julie Milton, Cindy McIntyre, Maria Tantony, Nicky Calvert, Jeanette Pyle and me. Our drama classes consisted of me doing the whole of Harold Pinter's Request Bus Stop alone, acting out every character; all of us shouting: " Look ayonder! It's the Eddison lighthouse!" - whatever that was supposed to mean; every Monty Python sketch in the book: "Beans shopping? Na, been shopping." "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK!" Culminating in the great ode to Macbeth: "Thunder, lightning, wind and rain! When shall we three meet again? When the hurly-burly's done. When the war is lost and won." Ah such innocence! And now for that cave...

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