Rape, A Botched Abortion And Her Mother's Ashes: Tracey Emin Faces It All In New Exhibition

Tracey Emin, White Cube ★★★★☆

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Rape, A Botched Abortion And Her Mother's Ashes: Tracey Emin Faces It All In New Exhibition Tracey Emin, White Cube 4
© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2017. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)

Tracey Emin's work is famously divisive. Dating back to her hotly-debated unmade bed, her career has been full of love-it-or-hate-it pieces. We're divided too. We love My Bed but her last show at White Cube Bermondsey was a big disappointment. Will this new show at the White Cube be hit or a miss?

From her Insomnia series of sleepless selfies. Copyright Tracey Emin, courtesy White Cube.

One gallery is filled with blown-up selfies which she took on her phone when struggling with insomnia. Given selfies are most often about showing our best selves, it's refreshingly honest that Emin isn't revealing herself at her most tired and vulnerable.

She deals candidly with death, the title of this painting, stating she's too young to be carrying her mother's ashes. © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2017. Photo © White Cube (Theo Christelis) Courtesy White Cube

Plenty of her trademark figurative paintings are on display, but they've become more scratchy and abstract. It's Emin confronting the trauma from her past, and with uncomfortable titles like 'They held me down while he fucked me' and 'The abortion waiting room' she's not afraid to reference both her rape and a botched abortion.  

A phone recording of Emin approaching her mother's ashes is particularly emotional. The camera slowly moves towards the ashes, as if she's struggling to confront the fact her mother has died. It's a tender memory, and just like everything else in the show, it's deeply personal.

A neon work speaks of longing for a lost love, and a large sculpture of Emin lying exposed is called 'I lay here for you'. It's all very touching, leaving the viewer feeling closer to Emin, as if they've been trusted with her deepest secrets and confidences.

© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2017. Photo © White Cube (Theo Christelis) Courtesy White Cube

The largest emotional hit is saved for a film in which she talks remarkably openly about her botched abortion and how she's still conflicted about not having had a child. It's summed up when she states:

Abortion was a mistake, but it was the best fucking mistake of my life.

The things we'd hesitate to share with close family and friends, Emin shares with the world. Leaving nothing secret, she bravely lays her life bare for any gallery-goer to experience. It's when Emin is at her most vulnerable that she makes her strongest work, and there's plenty of vulnerability in this unflinching exhibition.   

Tracey Emin: A Fortnight Of Tears is on at White Cube, Bermondsey until 7 April 2019. Entrance is free.  

Last Updated 08 February 2019