Tracey Emin

01.19.13

Tracey Emin, I Don’t Believe in Love but I Believe in You, 2012, neon, dimensions variable.


In the second segment of this two-part interview conducted during Art Basel Miami Beach, Tracey Emin addresses the fictions of being an art celebrity. Her first interview delved into her new self-portraits, which are drawn from photographs, not memory. Emin’s first solo museum exhibition in the US will open in December 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami.

I HAVE A FANTASY DREAM PERSON. He’s a writer—a novelist. He dresses like a writer would, with cozy clothes. And he works out every day. He’s fit. He can walk for miles and he’s not vain. He absolutely adores me. He’s really pleased that I like traveling and gallivanting too. See, he doesn’t like going out; he can’t because he has to write all the time. When I come in at 2 AM and I’m really drunk, he makes sure that I get to bed (he was still up, working of course). He makes sure I have a glass of water and some aspirin. Then when I dream and wake up in the middle of the night, he writes down my dream so I don’t forget it. In the morning, he wakes me up and asks me, “So what happened last night? Did you have a good time?” And I tell him what happened.

I was in a group show called “Brilliant!” at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1995. They had placed my tent, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, 1963–95, in a really shitty place. When we had to put down what we wanted for our artwork, I had written one thing: It had to be somewhere quiet. People were supposed to go inside the tent and read the hand-stitched names of all the people I had ever slept with. But instead, they put my work in a tiny space in the middle of four people’s sound pieces. I complained but they said there was nowhere else it was going to go and that that was the end of it. And I wasn’t the only one. Gillian Wearing insisted on having a projector but instead was given a monitor on the stairs. I had nothing I wanted.

But don’t feel sorry for me. I got my tent and dragged it out of the museum, down the escalator, and out the front door. It was mine and I owned it. There was nothing they could do about it. In response, they said that with my attitude, I would never show in a museum in America again. This was in 1995. Ironically, I haven’t had one since, until now. There just isn’t room in America for the celebrity artist. You had Andy Warhol. You had Jeff Koons, even though he decided to back off from the spotlight. Richard Prince backed off too. They all backed off. No one wanted to do it. No one could go after Warhol. That’s America’s ceiling.

In Britain, we never had that. By the time art happened twenty years ago in Britain, there wasn’t a place to put it. America had had art magazines since the 1950s. We only had Frieze and small columns in The Times, Art Review, and The Guardian. We didn’t fit in. We exploded from those pages into the mainstream. We went onto the news coverage and the front pages. We were the first generation of British artists to live our lives by doing it. If I were to die today, it would be front-page news in England. Even the fashion magazines loved us. We were the people being photographed, the young things. It was us, Kate Moss, the bands, and all those other models. It was like a wild happening.

The night before my tent was destroyed in a fire in 2004, thirteen children had been killed in Afghanistan by a bomb in their school. I was asked to remake my tent. But I had forgotten about it. Something more important was happening. It wouldn’t have been the same if I had remade it. It wouldn’t have had the smell.

In my house in France, I have a lake that’s only there from November to March. When I’m there in the summer by myself, it’s a dry bowl and then the rest of the time it’s filled with water. I never see it full. I began writing a book about it called The Vanishing Lake. You can just see this lofty figure there when the lake is wet and when the lake is gone. This woman lives in this house on her own, with her memories. It doesn’t matter what’s real in it. The 2002 Thames and Hudson book The Art of Tracey Emin is so factually incorrect. The events that take place in my book are just as imaginary, like the main character screaming, “You never loved me!” at her lover. But I don’t know what the male character’s name is yet. George? He could be American, my fantasy dream person. I never really thought about that before.

— As told to Frank Expósito