Tracey Emin: 'I felt that, in return for my children's souls, I had been given my success'

Thursday 29 January 2009 01:00

I can't believe how fast the week has gone. It seems like there have only been two days this week, and they have both been Wednesday, joined back-to-back, colliding like two tectonic plates. Everything else in between squeezed and pulped into some gluey, blancmangey mess, a sort of dark-mauve, blueberry-coloured blancmange, with a few frozen moments.

I went to Tate Britain to see my drawings; a fleeting sense of glee filled my heart when I saw them hanging on the walls. I smiled and thought to myself: who would have ever thought my drawings would be hanging in the Tate? And immediately, my mind was thrown back to 1990, coming round from the anaesthetic after having my abortion, and that overwhelming sense of failure, failure as a human being and failure as an artist. If only I had known then that I would have my drawings hanging up in the Tate; not giant dominant works of art, but delicate, spindly line drawings that are so recognisably mine.

Everybody is trying to come up with the next big idea, fighting with the pressure of the weight of it, all the time there is something bubbling, something moving along on its own trajectory. In my case, it's my drawings. There are some days when I can draw, and some days when I can't draw. It's not that my hand doesn't work properly – it's my whole arm, my whole body, everything that is connected to the finished result on the paper.

Most mornings, I wake up at about 6am. These days, I have a flask of hot tea by my bed; I turn on Radio 3, crush three pillows underneath my neck, and lean my head back at a 45-degree angle. I roll my eyes into the back of my skull, as far as possible. I then stretch out my hand, knowing that I should pick up my book but I always pick up my BlackBerry. I have this thing called the 6am club. There are a handful of people whom I can text or email at 6am, and they will reply to me immediately. Their thoughts will not be minor; they will be weighty, profound and somewhat philosophical. This is the morning time when the darkness is outside, but we still have the fantastic feeling of being alert in our womb-like nests. It's a safe place from which to send out these deep thoughts.

This morning, my friend emailed me, saying: "I met a 58-year-old woman who was very happy, really genuinely deep-rootedly happy, and I said to her: 'Why?' And she said, 'Because I have never had an abortion, that's why I can live without having children'. She said she had tried to have kids but had never got pregnant."

I emailed him back, saying: "My Dad said I must never have another abortion, because after three you start going mad. I've had two and I'm borderline. As it is, no one has ever wanted to have a child with me.

"Makes me feel cynical when I think about making love, and I sometimes have to ask: what is love? I would have been so much happier had I not had the abortions, but I truly believe that I would have been so much unhappier if I had had the children."

These are the kinds of conversations I have before dawn has broken. These are the kinds of thoughts that fill my mind before daylight comes. I'd never have believed that I would say or think this, but as I get older, it's becoming more and more obvious that my children are hanging on the Tate Britain walls.

When I first started becoming successful, I was filled with strange guilt and misunderstanding of myself. I felt that my abortions had somehow been a Faustian pact, and in return for my children's souls, I had been given my success. I am not a Catholic, but I have a profound belief in the soul. It's only now, now that I know that it will never be possible for me to have children, that the guilt has finally lifted. I give a lot out into the world, and I care and love for all that I create. It's a really big endeavour that extends much further than just the ego of myself.

I'm very lucky and very happy to have reached the point in my life that I have. There will never come a time that I will have to live with the fear of burying my children. We have only had to witness the atrocities that have happened in Palestine over the last few weeks, so many children being buried every day. With these images, I felt so grateful not to be the kind of mother who gave birth to a human being, but the kind of mother who gives birth to a creative notion, a creative idea, something that isn't evil and could never have that capacity. The man that pulled that trigger is somebody's child.

Sometimes, when I reach for my BlackBerry, I don't email anyone, I just roll on to BrickBreaker and try to get a better score.

Tracey Emin's drawings can be seen at Tate Britain as part of the exhibition, 'Drawn from the Collection: 400 Years of British Drawing', until 1 March

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