The Ben Uri has just announced the new addition of Tracey Emin’s appliquéd work, Something’s Wrong (2002), on loan from the British Council Collection, as a supplementary work in the current exhibition Judy Chicago and Louise Bourgeois, Helen Chadwick, Tracey Emin.
Something’s Wrong strikes a potent visual chord with the earlier monoprint Terribly Wrong (1997) of the same subject, lent to the exhibition by Tate, which is displayed on the adjacent wall for comparison and context; the glistening coins stitched to the blanket, between the splayed legs, make the materialism implied in the message hard, shiny and potent. The same pose was also employed by Emin in her photograph I’ve Got It All (2000, The Saatchi Gallery, London).
Looking at this piece – an embroidered blanket – this eye sees through the lens of the complex 1970s Feminist reclamation of this sort of “woman’s work”. I’ve got it all’s cashflow is reversed. It emerges, rather than returns to the vagina, as in Terribly wrong, which has its faux-naif print-reversed lettering reproduced here again here in thread, tied up on the back of the blanket, reinforcing its deliberateness.
In asterisks, the same material fixes a deluge of coins in place on the rough, patched, brown institutional blanket. There are Pfennigs and Centimes from her present travels, but it is the Turkish Lira and British Pennies that represent Emin’s past; her mother and her father. Whatever this liquid is, it has Emin’s DNA in it.
Tracey Emin was born in London and brought up in Margate on the South East Coat of England. She studied at Maidstone College of Art and later at the Royal College of Art in London. She talks frequently and without irony about her soul. In this she is unique among her peers. Like Egon Schiele and Frida Kahlo whom she much admires, her subject is herself: the traumatic episodes and periods of despair in her past, and a revelatory, stream of consciousness expose the darker moments of her present. The work represents an act of unsqueamish honesty, which seems to be a point of honour for the artist. In her work and in interviews she slices through prejudice and preconception. She turns anecdotes of rape, abortion and drunkenness from a humiliating over-exposure of her vulnerability to confrontational effect, and so lays claim to a degree of universality. Her work is highly narrative, trading in overt and sometimes mawkish sentimentality, and an explicit sexuality which contravenes all traditional codes of feminine behaviour. Her choice of media, the embroidery, quilt making, and diary-like narratives however, could be seen as consistent with 19th Century models of female accomplishment.
This is the first UK museum survey for Judy Chicago the distinguished American contemporary artist, which will provide the first opportunity to see her work in London since the tour of her seminal installation The Dinner Party in 1985.
Works drawn from the artist’s personal archive and from public collections in the USA are contextualised for the first time with work by Louise Bourgeois, Helen Chadwick and Tracey Emin, three distinguished European artists, each of whom has addressed similar issues in her own distinctive fashion during the latter part of the 20th century/early 21st century.