When Art Makes You Sick: Pt II Tracey Emin

When Art Makes You Sick: Pt II Tracey Emin

ArtDNA®: Cheeky, Assertive, Challenging MEETS Emotional, Searching, Authentic

Musing about the artist’s ‘job description’ or lack thereof in my introductory blog, (insert link to blog post), I questioned both the role and purpose of the artist. Ultimately I believe it’s twofold: first to push boundaries, and second to remind the rest of us to be who we are and say what we feel.  I also questioned the role of the viewer, which is equally as important, especially when confronted with works that, well, make us feel sick! After all, all art is not created equal, nor are our feelings. And there are some artists who love making sure we never forget it.

Cue Tracey Emin. Considered one of the world’s most celebrated contemporary artists, and self described “most mad” of the Young British Artists, Emin has never been one to censor herself. She is known for her poignant works that mine autobiographical details through a variety of media that includes painting, drawing, photography, video, sculpture, and neon text. Amongst her most controversial works are My Bed, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, which was created between 1963 and 1995, Every Part of Me Is Bleeding, and Feeling Pregnant III.

Most people don’t do something seminal. I’ve done it twice: with my tent and my bed. Picasso did it with Cubism.


Tracey Emin

My Bed

My Bed… was born from the survival of a mental breakdown in 1998. After four days of being almost unconscious, and highly intoxicated on vodka and cigarettes, Emin left the bed and saw what had been created during that moment in her life. There was no hiding from the debris field she had created: the empty bottles and cartons of cigarettes, blood-stained underwear, used and unused condoms, packets of contraceptive pills, waist belts and an array of other personal items only highlighted her total breakdown.

The ‘average’ person would have perhaps set about cleaning it all up in an effort to forget and move on. Emin opted to memorialize the experience rather than sanitize it. She immediately set about turning the bed and its debris field into a conceptual art installation piece.  

In Her Words

Public Reaction

At the time, the work was universally condemned as obscene and “slutty,” by art critics and the general public alike. Two and half decades later, critics and experts like Paul Hobson (then Director of the Contemporary Art Society, now Director of Modern Art at Oxford) describes Emin’s ability to channel “[…] experiences, loss, betrayal, vengefulness and abuse, and makes them available to the rest of us. She transforms them into something incredibly powerful.” Emin’s works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Goetz Collection in Munich, among others.