Glass reviews Tracey Emin’s A Fortnight of Tears at White Cube Gallery

On a drizzly night in Bermondsey, Glass attended the private view of  Tracey Emin’s latest exhibition A Fortnight of Tears at the White Cube gallery.

A twisting queue encircled the cobbled courtyard at the front of the gallery, serpentine-like in the misty rain, an ensemble of visitors braving the elements, eager for the chance to see Emin’s latest exhibition. Speaking to staff — some of whom have worked the venue since its opening in 2011 — all agreed that they have never witnessed such a large volume of spectators attending the opening of an exhibition at the White Cube before. So, what is it about her work that attracts such inimitable crowds?

South Gallery II at the White Cube Bermondsey

Tracey Emin creates art that is fiercely personal, unabashedly confrontational and completely empowering as both a woman and as a human that has experienced deep trauma on many levels. She has never shied away from confronting her turmoil and transfiguring these emotions into deeply emotive pieces of art. But, to say she finds it a healing process is not entirely true, perhaps cathartic is a more fitting term for what her work does for her and her psyche.

Tracey Emin, A Fortnight of Tears (2018)

A Fortnight of Tears addresses the terrible theme of loss, experienced by Emin in numerous painful forms. Emin draws on the traumatic feelings conjured by the devastating loss of her mother, painful romantic rejection and sexual frustration as well as the cataclysmic ordeal of having two abortions, the first at just eighteen.

These traumas make a raw, tangible osmosis through Emin and into the artwork she creates. For this exhibition, she uses artistic modes of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and film to express these themes, each effecting the viewer in different ways.

Tracey Emin, Insomnia (2018)

The spectator is first accosted by a room filled with 50 self-portrait photographs in South Gallery I, part of an ongoing series documenting Emin’s crippling insomnia. This confrontation with the artist so suddenly and intimately — as if you are lying inches from the artist in her own bed — immediately establishes a bond between Emin and the viewer.

This raw, painful gaze is sustained through her paintings that haunt the walls and halls of the White Cube. A palette of soft pink and lurid red that drips and bleeds across the canvas brings a distinctly corporal feel to the works, largely composed of watered-down shadows and impassioned outlines of thick black paint. The ephemerality of each figure, captured by Emin in a state of simultaneous coming and going is emotive and illustrative of the futility of human life. As seen below, her piece It Was All Too Much (2018) is alive with soft pinks, human red and accents of black. The brushstrokes capture the movement of the figure, leaving what could be “too much” the form hanging rather ambiguously in the air. Which theme of Emin’s seems most prevalent … pain, pleasure, longing? Perhaps all three – that is the magic of the artist’s tenebrous and evocative artwork.

Tracey Emin, It Was All Too Much (2018)

The pain continues in The Ashes Room, as the spectator encounters powerful themes of bereavement and loss. The colour blue appears, melancholic and watery in each of paintings that line the walls here, a contrast to the succulent pinks that seemed so gentle and full of life in the previous spaces of the gallery. Several large, glass display cabinets are filled with countless books and pages of sketches, scribbles and prose from Emin’s archive, all deeply emotive in content.

Tracey Emin, I Could Feel You (2018)

Three large bronze sculptures that are placed at different points throughout the exhibition are particularly breathtaking in both stature and witness. Portraying the female figure in various forms of contortion, lying with limbs twisted in positions that blur the line between pain and eroticism. Perhaps this is Emin’s intention, that pleasure cannot be experienced without some heartache, and that a contented life cannot be without the experience of powerful agony.

South Gallery II at the White Cube Bermondsey

Another sculpture, I Longed For You (2019), in Emin’s signature neon carefully forms a message bright with pain, describing the experience of unrequited love and the pain of a lonely heart.

Bringing the exhibition to a close is Emin’s landmark early film How It Feels (1996), a video following the artist as she walks around London as discusses the deeply horrific and traumatic experience of her first abortion. It was at this point the viewer bears witness to her realisation that the art she creates will always be inevitably linked to the experiences of her past.

Tracey Emin at the White Cube Bermondsey

As a woman myself, I found the exhibition to be profoundly moving. Emin’s attitude towards motherhood and all that it can entail – both having a mother and the possibility of becoming a mother – and the loss that can follow in both is something experienced by some degree to every female. The emotions conjured are powerful and deeply moving. Although Emin’s pain is extremely personal to her own life, her bold communication of such allows for her work to be experienced and understood on disparate levels by so many. Emin is not wasting any time — untangling her memories, harnessing her emotions and creating some of the best work of her career thus far.

by Lucy May McCracken

A Fortnight of Tears, White Cube Bermondsey, London SE1 until April 7, 2019

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