The Empty Bed: Tracey Emin and the Persistent Self

Morgan Meis in Image:

ScreenHunter_2443 Dec. 14 20.20This all happened in 1998. A youngish woman, an artist, was at home in her council flat in the Waterloo neighborhood of central London. Council flats, you should know, are basically a British version of public housing. The woman’s name was Tracey Emin. She was having a lousy week.

A relationship had gone sour. More deeply than that, life had gone sour. Depression set in. She started hitting the bottle pretty hard. She couldn’t get out of bed. She smoked. She drank more. She snacked on junk food, rarely leaving the increasingly rank confines of her boudoir. This went on for days.

When she finally emerged from her downward spiral, Emin gazed upon what her drunkenness and depression had wrought. The bed spoke volumes. The rumpled and stained sheets were a testimony not to a good night’s sleep, but to despair. Next to the bed, piles of junk from her daily life. Empty bottles of vodka. A pair of dirty slippers. Cartons of cigarettes and other trash. A pair of panties soiled with menstrual blood. A container of birth control pills. Condoms.

A normal person would have wrapped all the trash up in the dirty sheets and thrown the whole lot in the rubbish bin (as they call it in Waterloo). But Tracey Emin was not then, and is not now, a normal person. As she recovered from her depressive bender, Emin had an interesting and unexpected thought: “This is art. I’ve created a work of art.”

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