Friday, 12 August 2011

Love is What You Want

The very first meeting of the Triangle took place at Southbank, where we gathered to admire Tracy Emin's artwork at her long-awaited exhibition 'Love is What You Want'.

The reason for her association with feminism was immediately obvious from when we entered the first room. We were greeted by the sight of several blankets hanging on the walls, with phrases painstakingly sewn on such as "Why should I protect myself from you when it is you who should protect me?" and “I do not expect to be a mother but I do expect to die alone”.

Walking through the rooms, you are struck by the contradictions within the work she displays. In the neon room, one light installation tenderly spelt out 'I can feel your smile' while another bluntly said 'F*** off, you slag'. One certainly would not expect to see those words alongside each other. But they do. It certainly does somewhat reflect the double standards that women constantly deal with in their everyday lives, and appears to be something that Tracy Emin embraces.

She challenges us to confront uncomfortable truths, laying bare her experiences with rape, abortion, sex, and growing up. Through her illustrations of sex and masturbation, she challenges you to look away but at the same time she seems to draw you in, saying "Look, this is who and what we are, and this is what happens”.

A sculpture created especially for this exhibition consisted of a distinctly phallic-looking wooden structure towering over a platform upon which two tiny children’s chairs rested. A clay-cast woman lay curled up in a foetal position on top of a plinth, seemingly cowering in fear in the shadow of the wooden structure. The message is clear and disturbing, with the power of masculinity portrayed as dominating and threatening.

The children’s chairs give a strong sense of vulnerability as does the tiny teddy bear and the misplaced child’s shoe seemingly ‘left’ on the floor in two different parts of the exhibition. Tracy Emin seems to be sending a message about how easily innocence is lost, how little it can be valued, and how precious it really is.

Despite the horror and sense of foreboding, another feeling that permeates the artwork is that of defiance. She uses art to show the hardship and horrors in her life but she also uses it as a shield, to defy others to challenge her on the truths she illustrates. There is definitely humour in her work – one such example lies in her drawing of an obviously inept man on top of a naked woman with the caption “Is this a joke”. She also scrawls out in neon lighting that “People like you need to f*** people like me”.

Tracy Emin has successfully thumbed her nose at the men that conspired to make her life harder in so many ways;

“…I’m leaving this place,
I’m out of here.
I’m better than all of them.
I’m free.
So I left Margate,
I left all those boys
This one’s for you” (an extract from 'Why I Never Became a Dancer')

This exhibition, it would seem, is for all of us!  It is a powerful exhibition about the female condition, and what it is to be a woman amongst men. We certainly found it thought-provoking, with its themes of sexism, violence, love, feminity, abortion and family.

If you would like to visit the exhibition yourself, there will be a BSL tour on 25th August at 6.30pm. Alternatively, you can visit anytime until 29th August, which is when the exhibition closes. see the link below for information.

Let us know what you think!