Review | Tracey Emin: A Fortnight of Tears at White Cube

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A Fortnight of Tears is a major new exhibition of works by acclaimed British artist Tracey Emin. The show features features a large selection of pieces, across a wide variety of media.

Upon entering into the stark space of the White Cube, one is immediately confronted by fifty self portraits of Emin. The photographs, taken during the artist’s battle with insomnia, appear as raw reflections on suffering and the growing anxieties of age. The pieces set the tone for the rest of the show, an inherently introspective reflection on love, loss, and anger.

Throughout the exhibition, there is a constant interplay between two sides of Emin’s practice, the fervent and the polished. The paintings appear as figurations of suffering and trauma, they are gestural and free, expressive and honest. Among the most affective, I was too young to be carrying your ashes (2018) , in its deep crimson, is an expression of trauma following the recent death of the artist’s mother. The work is framed by two other paintings, I watched you disappear. Pink Ghost (2018) and You were still There (2018). These two artworks appear ethereal when placed in relation to the central image; ghostly reflections on the nature of mortality. When bought into conversation, these three pieces are deeply emotive. The larger scale paintings in the show are perhaps the most moving, as they capture the Emin’s gestural style to a much greater extent than the smaller works. The Ashes Room that houses the three aforementioned pieces, alongside a selection of other pieces exploring the processes of mourning, is a visceral contemplation of bereavement. The Ashes (2018), a short film displayed alongside the works, is an abstract and measured consideration of passing. The camera, slowly panning across a table, revealing the box containing Emin’s mother’s ashes, enveloped by godly sunlight, produces an affecting image, one that gains much of its power through its sublime simplicity.

Tracey Emin I was too young to be carrying your Ashes 2017-2018 Acrylic and pencil on canvas 72 1/16 x 48 1/16 in. (183 x 122 cm) © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2017. Photo © White Cube (Theo Christelis) Courtesy White Cube

The other side of her practice are the more overtly produced artworks, epitomised most infamously by the neon script works. I Longed for You (2018) is possibly among the more successful of the now iconic neon pieces, appearing as a surprisingly poignant reflection on loss, standing out amongst the perhaps over-prolific series.

A personal highlight of the show were the three large-scale bronze works, The Mother (2018), I lay here for you (2018) and When I Sleep (2018). These figurative works are the artist’s first experiments with the material. The figures dominate the space in which they are placed. The Mother, the first sculpture encountered in the exhibition, is a contemplative and pure work, one that draws upon the the imagery of religion and faith, presenting a mediative reflection on selfhood. The size of the work is contrasted by the textural and rudimentary nature of the form. The other figures utilise the same visual language while drawing upon classical imagery of the reclining nude. They are explorations of feminine identity. The bronzes appear as scaled up models, and in this way they are leant a personal edge, demonstrating the hand of the sculptor. Despite the solidity of the bronze itself, the sculptures seem malleable and transitory. The permanence of the material juxtaposes the vulnerability of the subject matter, while securing a sculptural legacy for Emin herself.

Dispersed throughout the exhibition are vitrines containing ephemera and sketches; providing a further insight into the processes through which the work was conceived. These elements aid the viewer in connecting more directly with the artist’s artistic outlook.

When considering A Fortnight of Tears in relation to Emin’s wider artistic production, it is suggestive of a new stage in her practice. The explosive and raw artworks produced at the very beginning of her career, as she worked alongside the other Young British Artists were fuelled by controversy and backlash, held up by the self-determination and implicit egotism of youth. Following her initial rise to fame, Emin’s practice appeared at times to move towards a more commercially viable form of self, drawing upon her strongly held position as a household name in British art. Despite the artistic merit of the most recent, more commercial artistic period, it is at times difficult to reconcile the figure of the artist behind much of her work in the last decade. A Fortnight of Tears signals a return to the raw expression that one can observe in the earlier work of the artist, compounded with a new-found element of self-reflection that is only discovered through age.

Words by Charlie Dixon 

Tracey Emin: A Fortnight of Tears runs from the 6th February to the 7th April. For more information, please visit  White Cube


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