Recently, I was invited to view Tracey Emin’s latest exhibition ‘Love is What You Want‘ and write a piece about it. You maybe asking yourself why I am I reporting on an art show seeing as I write for a film blog? Well firstly, Emin’s show is a mixed media exhibition incorporating sculptures, paintings, prints, textiles and (wait for it)…video. Some of you will know that one of my primary interests is the use of film outside of the cinema or what film buffs might call “expanded cinema.” I think it is important to think about how actually we engage, on a daily basis, with a whole range of often-neglected forms of film that ignored by the critics. So, once again I have taken up my banner and kissed my loved goodbye to look at how film is used in contemporary art.
The show is being exhibited in the Haywood Gallery on the Southbank, this can be a difficult space for some art shows but not in this case with, Emin’s work every corner and stairwell has been carefully thought about to show her powerfully emotive work in the best possible manner. I wish I could talk about the amazing textiles, the paintings that show clear signs of influence for German Expressionist Egon Schiele and prints, and the absorbing neon signs which boast phrases such as “Is anal sex legal,” right next to “Is legal sex anal?’ (These believe it or not are less controversial phrases), but this is an article about film in art, not a chance for me to remember my rudimentary art history and criticism. Film is peppered throughout this exhibition and melds well with the other medias. One of the central motifs of the exhibition is the concept of personal memories often experimented with through memorabilia. Films such as… tap into this concept of memory/memorabilia offering a replication of home movies made on a Super 8 with a comforting grainy texture and sporadic cuts. All of which convey a genuine sense of emotion that although saturated with sentimentality manage to retain a sense of authenticity that is intoxicating. Emin includes a diverse range of genres in her film creating a spoof of the spaghetti western filmed in Cyprus, the homeland of her father, which she has entitled Sometimes the Dress is Worth More Than Money. This title shows Emin running confused and lost in the dessert wearing a wedding dress littered bank notes to a bridal dress as Ennio Morricone’s score from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966) plays in the background. You then turn the corner to find two more films, a second cowboy themed short and more interestingly, an excellent autobiographical short called Why I Never Became A Dancer. The shocking answer is powerfully revealed when she recounts how “ex-lovers” (the term here is being used all too loosely) from Margate chant “Slag! Slag! Slag!” at her in a local disco. It is in these personal, revelatory, and moving autobiographical pieces that captured the viewer and supply a sense of admirable honesty to the entire collection. The most moving of these films was one that concerned her abortions, this frank documentary traces Emin’s emotional and physical journey through the process of an abortion that went wrong leaving the foetus inside of Emin for nearly a week. This entire exhibition although having its lighter moments, such as a surreal short about a dog who asks Emin “Do you want a fuck?”, but in general this is an emotional, absorbing and challenging exhibition. Impressively, irony is apparently absent from this exhibition and its finest quality is its emotional blatancy that never fails to impact, even though some may perhaps shy away from her purposefully adopted naivety. Emin is renowned for her honesty, which for some is seen as either a cheap publicity stunt or vulgar exhibitionism; both of these ideas are incorrect. Emin is a dynamic, blunt and intelligent artist and I can’t recommend this show enough.