QUESTIONS FOR TRACEY EMIN | On Mattresses and Cats.

I’m sorry – my last post was a lie! The first art overflow will be Tracey Emin: leftovers from the press trip and press conference for She Lay Down Deep Beneath The Sea at Turner Contemporary, Margate (26 May 2012 – 23 September 2012).


I’m going to start at the beginning…

It was some time mid-May when myself and about 50 other journalists hopped on the high-speed train from St Pancras to Margate to see Tracey Emin’s first solo show in her home-town. Being that I grew up in Margate, I was quite excited at the prospect of traveling high-speed after suffering through hours of the more-affordable and more-usual budget coach-journey to Cliftonville. Clutching my complimentary train ticket, I entered a carriage where, through the window, I could see Tracey Emin press-packs being waved about. I sat next to a female journalist reporting for a Chinese TV station and we talked the whole way about her little son… Strangely, however, it soon emerged that she didn’t know who Tracey Emin was. Weird huh? What was she doing on an Emin press trip? ‘I’m looking forward to seeing the sea and buying some fish and chips,’ she said.

We arrived in Margate and were walking along the seafront in a large group towards the David Chipperfield-designed Turner Contemporary when a car whizzed past… it later emerged that in this car was Tracey herself, running late to her own press opening! I ended up quickly having to brief the journalist I’d met before the press conference. She looked around the show and whispered, ‘My son draws like that…’ [I'm sure she's a lovely lady and probably a good journalist in other areas, but it's weird that she has the power to pass judgement on something she doesn't know anything about!!]. In contrast, standing just a few feet away, another journalist was looking at an embroidery with tears streaming down her face.


For the press conference, I sat in between the ‘i-don’t-know-who-Tracey-Emin-is’ lady and the tearful lady. The ‘i-don’t-know’ lady, surprisingly, was first to put her hand up. The room turned in one motion to face her. Crumpled Guardian faces, stern Independent frowners and a big black camera with ‘BBC’ on the side in huge letters, and of course Tracey too. All eyes on the woman who compared Emin to her 4-year-old son. I must say i was terrified for her. What was she going to say??

‘Hi Tracey, I just wanted to ask… do you like cats? Do you have your own?’ At this point, I was almost burying my face in my hands. What a strange question… what was she thinking? Surprisingly, however, Tracey smiled. ‘I’m so glad someone asked me about my cat,’ she said. ‘He’s my soulmate. I cannot explain how much I love him.’ (It was revealed later that there was a tiny sculpture of a cat in the exhibition which I had completely missed…) Perhaps I was too soon to judge this lady’s journalism skills?

Due to the short time slot we had with Tracey, questions moved on at a quick pace. Below are a selection which didn’t make it into the final cut of the article I was writing for Aesthetica:

  • ‘Do you not want to have children?’

In society, if you don’t want to have children, you’re a witch. I don’t want to have kids, but I’m not a witch! People always ask me ‘why don’t you have children Tracey?’ But, it’s not my duty.

  • ‘You’re quite a mysterious figure. Are you shy at all?’

In Margate, when I was young, I had more people wondering around me than I have done since. I am not shy about anything.

  • ‘There’s a theme of leaving in your work. Can you explain more about that please?’

The Vanishing Lake room is about the comfort of leaving, the lake being empty. That’s about being a woman, going into my fifties, it’s never going to be the same. The girl is never coming back. She’s gone. Lots of things are ending for me and things will never be the same again.

  • ‘There’s a mattress in this show which conjures memories of your famous un-made bed. Can you tell us about this one and how it’s different?’

It’s my mattress isn’t it. Famous Tracey’s mattress! This mattress is from 2002. I got a new one see, and this one had to go outside for the council to come and collect it. They said ‘We’ll come at whatever time and you just leave it outside the house.’ But the idea of ME leaving MY mattress outside my house? It just wasn’t going to happen! So I took it to the studio… I was going to saw it up into little bits and dispose of it in some way, but I kept looking at it and thought, it’s really weird, why is the stain on the mattress around the edge and not in the middle…. And i thought, I’ll never have a mattress like that ever again in my life, no matter how much I’d like to have those stains, it’s not going to happen!

  • ‘What does art mean to you at this stage in your life?’

Art’s like a lover, and no matter how good the lover is, its not going to be good all the time is it! So I fall in and out of love with art and I have to cough up this dialogue with it, this relationship with it. And sometimes it isn’t good to me… sometimes it isn’t nice to me. Sometimes I treat it really disrespectfully too. But, despite that, art’s given me every single thing in my life which is positive. When I have a really low ebb, it’s usually art comes in an saves me. It picks me up. It’s life. It’s so important to me.

  • ‘What’s next for you and your work?’

I want to do more bronzes… I’ve got all these ideas of things I want to make, and really, I want to work on paintings too!

  • ‘You seem a very strong and independent lady, yet also fragile in some respects too…’

Some things are hard in life. But I always say, no body has ever given me anything, I know what I’m capable of.

  • ‘What do you want people to take away from your work?’

Anything really. Art can change things, so there’s a lot riding on this show especially as I care a lot about Margate. To be honest, in this specific case, even if people don’t like the work and just use it as an excuse to come down to Margate, that’ll be enough. Even if they slag me off, I don’t care! I’m used to it! I owe it to Margate for all Margate’s given me. I want every fish and chip shop to run out of fish and chips and for all the ice-cream parlours to be full!

  • ‘Is there anything that defines you right now?’

I love soft things. I love padded things and Picasso right now. I’m in love with art again. That’s the main thing.


At the lunch following the conference, the ‘i-don’t-know’ lady came and sat with me and the tearful lady. The latter, through a mouthful of purple potato tart said, ‘What an amazing lady. I could have cried at some of the things she was just saying. I can really relate to her work. It just touches me immediately…’ After a slight pause the ‘I-don’t know’ lady replied, nodding, ‘She was so lovely. I feel like I understand her a lot more now.’ I turn to her, surprised at the transformation of opinion, ‘I really love cats too,’ she continues. ‘I don’t think my son could’ve made that cat.’

This post is the overflow of this article which I wrote for Aesthetica Magazine Online:


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