Tracey Emin: 'The art market is on a knife edge – waiting to see what happens'

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The Independent Online


I lay in bed, my eyes burning from complete exhaustion. It was nearly eight o'clock and my day had begun before I wanted it to. I rolled over and I could feel my heart pounding against the mattress, as though it was going to smash right through it, on to the floorboards and dangle down into the room below. Today is one of those days when I have too much to do and I really, really don't have the time to do it. I hate myself for doing this – the attempt at being superhuman and then the frustration, disappointment and anger with myself. I pick up my squeezy rubber ball with a map of the world on it and make myself do some hand exercises. I threw the ball at Docket, my cat, and he rolled it back to me across the bed. As my hand swiped it, a stroke of genius: I dialled my studio number and listened to the innocuous answerphone message. "There's no one here at the moment, but if you would like to leave a message we'll get back to you..."

I didn't really know what I was going to say but I knew it was a really good idea to leave a message, just to try and remember what I wanted to say. I was hoping everything was going to sound clear and reasonable. It wasn't – everything was kind of jangly and kind of nervous and slightly edgy, just like the sound of my voice. As much as I like my voice, this morning I did wonder whether the recipients would be listening to something more along the lines of the Grim Reaper. I lay there and the deathly drawl floated out of my mouth.


I called the number again and got the innocuous voice message and wondered why the new girl, the Canadian, who has a fantastic voice, hadn't left the message. I wondered why the message was boring and bland, but it was quite useful for this moment as I attempted to dictate my column down the phone.

But instead I started to think about voices. Voices from the past, voices of the dead, voices of people I love, the fact I could never physically be in love with someone unless I liked their voice, and how important voices are to me, the voices I heard as a little girl in my head – the sharpness of their voices and recurring fear. I wondered where all the voices in your mind go to, if they just hang out in the ether like ghost voices, waiting to be caught up in somebody's head again.



I dialled the number again and as I listened to the voice message I thought I must remember to say that the Canadian girl must leave the message on the answering machine. And then I thought about the Radio 4 programme I had listened to this week about the special relationship between Britain and America. Everybody's voices on the programme sounded horrible. Everybody sounded angry and distressed. I listened to it in bed whilst trying to go to sleep, but the voices sounded like hammers. Hammers aggressively trying to knock a hole into my skull. I usually put the telly or the radio on, but I don't want to today, probably like millions of other people.

I'm so bored of what I'm hearing. I'm just bored of everything being churned up and recycled. I'm bored of what I'm being told. I'm so bored of nobody knowing what the right answers are. It's obvious what the answer is. We've been at war for 20 years – this country and America – what does anybody expect? Where do we expect all the money to have gone? Just gone down some stupid pit, some stupid hole.


I dialled the number again and spoke down the phone. It's Frieze week – London's biggest art week. Even all the major auction houses change their calendars to coincide with it. Usually it's a week of hard work and lots of parties, this time there's a major anxiety, and I'm adding to it – but the art market is on a knife-edge, just waiting to see what happens.

But the most amazing thing that's happened is that we have all started talking about creativity, the meaning of ideas, the responsibility of an artist; how art can transcend, yet coincide with everything that happens politically and financially, as though the artist is a mirror to the future.

I've now realised that I have been dictating this column back to front. Most of my thoughts have been rambling and disjointed. It's because I'm tired and I feel under a lot of pressure. The pressure to perform and succeed as an artist is phenomenal. I often use the analogy of a top tennis player. Everyone waits for you to win the Grand Slam, but the chance of it happening more than once in a lifetime is pretty rare. I've made my bed, I've made my tent and now I would just like to make things in harmony.

"Beep..." 10 seconds left. Alex, make sure you get these messages and write them down.


I've got to get up. I've got to get ready. I have to throw myself out into the world with a smile on my face. But instead I roll over, feeling my heart once again.