‘It’s not about who I f*cked, it’s about who I slept with. With the Tent, people forget it’s about intimacy,’ says Emin at the launch of her new retrospective, Love is What You Want.
Though Tent is an obvious omission to the show (having been destroyed in a warehouse fire in 2004), this would be seen as a statement relevant to much of Emin’s oeuvre – trampling the uneasy line between intimacy and ‘f*cking’.
Though this level of often disarming intimacy with the viewer even seems to trouble Emin at times (she reveals in her talk that rediscovering the used tampons was a work she was somewhat less proud of); the level of candidness and rawness in her work is beguiling as ever, now on a deservedly large scale.
Deriving its title from a Marc Bolan song, Love is What You Want broadly conveys, (perhaps unsurprisingly), the antithesis of love – depicting a howling longing for it through relics of the decidedly unlovely.
Instead, we see a relentless trail of rape, abortion, disappointment and fury; tempered with a trademark wry humour and told with a finely-tuned narrative finesse.
Seeing so much work displayed at once underscores Emin’s ability to toy with the viewers’ emotions using a huge range of media. Just when you assume that a diary entry, video or drawing conveys the stomach-churning horror of a maladministered abortion; you see the painstakingly created baby outfits for a child that no longer exists.
The neon lights and misspelt appliquéd blankets’ lettering demonstrates Emin’s skill with text; veering between positive affirmations and desolate admissions of defeat (‘you just going to leave me hear sweet heart’, or sarcasm-laden ‘yea we’ve all been ther heaven’ from her Mad Tracey blanket.)
Video work Why I Never Became a Dancer relates to the sexual promiscuity of Emin’s 13- and 14-year-old self, before she discovers love for disco-dancing at 15.
However, her newfound passion is quickly shot as boys shout ‘slag’ at her in a dance competition. She flees, and years on, announces ‘this one’s for you boys.’ Now in her thirties, we see the sorry tale’s denouement as she whirls joyfully round to Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), with an abandon you wonder if she even had when she first discovered dancing.
In another video, Emin speaks of how the world is too full of ‘things’ – how in her role as artist, she’s adamant not to further clog up the earth with unnecessary ‘stuff.’. Thankfully, in Love is What you Want, nothing is superfluous.
Love is What you Want runs from 18 May to 29 August at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1