Susie Rushton: This isn't art, it's a focus group

Related Topics

More Passion, it reads. Or, rather, "More PAssion", because Tracey Emin's neon artworks are based on her own handwriting – ungrammatical tics and all.

As of this weekend, those two words have been illuminating a dark corner of a Downing Street stairwell, just outside the door to the Terracotta Room (I don't dare imagine its decor; have they never heard of Farrow and Ball?). According to one unimpressed "insider", the effect of the cherry-coloured neon haze emanating from Emin's artwork is rather louche, "like the entrance to a nightclub".

Her generous gift to the Government Art Collection – and to her friend David Cameron – is intriguing for several reasons. It confirms the Prime Minister as a man with his finger on the pulse – if the pulse in question were beating in 1997. A purist might argue that art should exist independently of fashion, but Emin's much-imitated neon signs became such a popular signifier of Britart that it's hard not to see them and instantly be transported back to the age of Liam and Patsy, Tony Blair and Sensation at the Royal Academy.

Cameron could have asked her for one of her wall-hangings or monoprints. But neon was very much the PM's choice. On a visit that Emin paid to No 10 earlier this year, Cameron apparently "dragged" her to the corner of the notoriously poky building that needed to become "edgy" (her word).

Then there's the choice of phrase. We know that Emin tried to avoid using "rude" words that are featured in many of her other neons. So choice statements such as "Is anal sex legal", a phrase used in a previous work, were out of the question. But most of her other illuminated works express a heartfelt phrase, such as "Keep me safe" or "I promise to love you" or "You forgot to kiss my soul". Working on the Downing Street commission, Emin searched for a slogan that would be also be fitting for "all the dignitaries and world leaders and religious groups" herded through the corridor.

If the final choice of words sounds a bit flat, perhaps even focus-grouped, it passed the taste test for Cameron. You can see why. "More passion" has the ring of the motivational management expert. "Passion" – no longer in this age used to mean the opposite of "reason" – has become a business buzzword.

"Passion" is a Sugarism, a synonym for ambition, and application. It's not hard to think of blue-sky genius Steve Hilton cycling to Whitehall in a T-shirt that reads "More passion", is it? One imagines that when the Prime Minister took delivery of the artwork, he must have looked at the thing, and thought to himself: yes, that sums me up. So what is it that Cameron and George Osborne and their drones are supposed to be more passionate about? Reforming the NHS? Removing the 50p tax rate for top earners? Looking and sounding really late-Nineties? Could be ...

The sting in summer's tail

Stop worrying about being eaten alive by a shark: it's wasps you should be afraid of. Late in the summer they are more aggressive than a rampaging gang of feral rioters. At least two Britons die each year after being speared by the wasp's venomous sting, and although it's usually people with pre-existing allergies that suffer the worst outcomes, a bad encounter with a pack of wasps (and they definitely work together) could hospitalise any of us.

Last week, in an incident that wasn't splashed across the front pages of all the tabloids, 70-year-old Jeanette Duncan and her husband George were set upon by a swarm as they walked along the road near Chelmsford, Essex; Mrs Duncan was so badly stung that it caused a fatal cardiac arrest. Mostly, though, wasps are very, very annoying; we spent a balmy lunchtime in a pub garden on Sunday being dive-bombed, apparently thanks to a combination of beer, brightly coloured T-shirts and fragrance around our table (the current trend for fruity-smelling scents is particularly alluring to them, apparently). It's enough to make me hope summer should just call it a day already.

How the gap year turned into a luxury purchase

I learnt to scuba-dive, pick industrial amounts of tomatoes, and probably ruined my skin through too much sunbathing, but can I say my "gap year" was a life-changing experience? Not exactly. It taught me how to save up for something, as I worked for six months to pay for the following half a year travelling around the world, but I don't think I'd kid myself it was educational, not unless there's a qualification for lying on a beach.

I did my trip in between a university degree and a post-grad course, and in retrospect it seems preposterously self-indulgent. But as more A-level students put off a year of travel in order to go straight to university and avoid higher fees, it's beginning to look like the gap year, once a rite of passage for middle-class youth, could go the way of first-time buyer mortgages.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The truth about kids on holiday

Rosie Millard

August catch-up: Barack's phone calls, tribute to Norm and my Desert Island Discs

John Rentoul
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home