Tracey Emin's She lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea set to open at Turner Contemporary

By Ben Miller | 25 May 2012
A photo of a woman perched on a wall overlooking a sea
© Jas Lehal
Exhibition: Tracey Emin: She lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, Turner Contemporary, Margate, May 26 – September 23 2012

Margate, the town of Tracey Emin’s unfathomably tumultuous youth, is a place of memories you could forgive her for being uncharacteristically reserved about.

Even decades on, when she returned to oversee the addition of the neons, dusty beds, paintings, texts, flags and bronze sculptures now lining the upper firmament of Turner Contemporary, the backdrop was testing.

“The weather was so bleak, it was cold, the sea was dark green – psychologically it really affected me,” she laughs, thinking back over the past fortnight.

“I could make a whole show about the place.

“Two weeks ago it was my mum’s birthday – she was 84. I was so scared of coming down here and installing a show at the same time, I couldn’t move. I was rigid with fear.”

In fact, her intense affection for this faded idyll of seaside Kent is heartfelt, as persuasive as a master politician, except more jagged than polished in its emotional sincerity.

That’s her character, of course, but also partially a reflection of the passing of time, channelled into the South Gallery’s Vanishing Lake series of works, which compare the disappearance of youth to a photo of a drying riverbed or, in nearby texts, the Dead Sea.

“It’s never going to be the same,” she rues, her thoughts galloping.

“Lots of these works are about being a woman in my 50s. The lake is disappearing. It’s the Dead Sea: it’s gone, it’s over, it’s dry, it’s not coming back.

“What am I going to do – carry on fighting everything? I don’t have time any more. I have probably got 30 years to still get on and do things.”

This urge for “balance”, says Emin, has imbued her with the confidence to finish some of her paintings from the past ten years, some of which – mainly of the female form – are bravely hung within tiptoeing distance of watercolours by JMW Turner and Auguste Rodin here.

There are also tapestries (which she loves, but says most people see “as a crafty thing with no value at all”), an old mattress (“I’ll never get those stains again”) and monoprints corresponding on “the things which are not so good to do with love.”

“Art is like a lover,” she decides. “Sometimes it’s good to me, sometimes it’s not.

“When I’m at a low ebb it saves me, it picks me up and shows me what is important in life. Art is responsible for almost every positive thing in my life.”

If the gallery can sing for Margate through culture, Emin could be an ebullient ambassador. She wants local rail routes to be subsidised, believing people might move there if commuting gets cheaper.

“But they can’t afford the bloody train fare,” she adds, before outlining her vision for the environs during the exhibition’s run.

“I want every fish and chip shop to run out at weekends. I want all the ice cream parlours to be full.

“Even if people don’t like my work, even if they just want to come down and slag me off, I still think they should come.”

Critical reception notwithstanding, her wish is unlikely to be thwarted.

  • Open 10am-6pm (except non-Bank Holiday Mondays). Admission free. See Culture24 next week for our Review.
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