Tracy Emin is a controversial artist. Her turner prize nominated work, My Bed often evokes strong reactions from art lovers and loathers. The artwork itself cannot be categorised as unsuccessful, each way you assess My Bed it is has over achieved. If you believe art should create interest, debate and conversation in the art world, and beyond it, the interest and conversation around My Bed surely means her work is considered successful. For example I have vivid memories of my contemporary art virgin parents, discussing this, so called, Unmade Bed, with their equally novice friends and deeming, how could THAT possibly be art? Alternatively, if you judge successful art by what people will pay for it, either to own it or to see it, the work has also achieved a healthy price tag, interest from art collectors and finally exhibited all over the world, most recently Tate Liverpool.
How can that possibly be art?
In 1998 Emin had been living in London and in a relationship, her relationship broke down and Emin took to her bed, for days she did not leave her bed, could not leave her bed, would not leave her bed. She did not eat, drink, leave her bed for any reason. In her bed she was safe and away from harm, why would she need to leave it? Days went by, light then darkness, day after day. She was in her bed, her body dehydrating, starving, deprived of nourishment, love, affection, water, hope.
After days of pensive sleeping, waking, thinking, in a constant loop of depression, she crawled from her bed, the cocoon she had made. And emerged into the world, she was hungry, thirsty, depressed and in danger of making her self extremely ill. She reached her kitchen where she filled a glass with life saving water, as she turn quenching her thirst, she saw, ‘My Bed’.
The reason I believe Emin’s, My Bed has a profound affect on people is that it is really is her bed, it’s that cocoon she made for herself that could have also been her coffin, her death bed. Emin did not tidy up her mess, she did not brush it under the carpet, she displayed it in a gallery, she did not even recreate her bed in a gallery, she took the real one and installed it there, for any member of the public to see. She aired her dirty laundry in a public gallery and was not ashamed of it. So often are we expected to hide difficult times in our lives, difficult experiences. We are told to put it behind us, or to deal with it in private. In reaction to this, Emin put it in front of us, and it has become extremely successful, for her and for others, her stepping stone to the career she now has as a successful artist. A career that so easily could never have happened, Emin transformed a painful time into a positive step, she took a risk, one which was not always easy, but she never gave up believing inher artwork and what it stood for.
As part of the therapeutic environment we have created here at YMCA Stepping Stones, we decided to organise a trip to see Tracy Emin’s My Bed while it was exhibited at Tate Liverpool during our Clear Minds weekly workshop. The session started as usual at Stepping Stones, I asked the clients if they knew of Emin and her artwork. Some had, some had not. I explained Emin’s story, her background, her failures, and I explain about the bed, the depression and the breakdown. The feeling in the exhibition space is oneof quite contemplation. The piece itself is slowly decaying and breaking down, at the end of the day it is 19 yearsold. Some of the elements have perished completely, and the Orangina has turned brown! When I questioned the residents, they felt the work was powerful, now that they understood the background and could relate to the work, residents felt that they could identify with it. The experience empowered residents to believe that they can overcome their diagnosis; and believe negative experiences can become a positive life affirming episodes.
Blog author Chrissy Bithell, Link Worker