Magazine article The Spectator

Ego Trip with Excess Baggage

Magazine article The Spectator

Ego Trip with Excess Baggage

Article excerpt

STRANGELAND by Tracey Emin Sceptre, £14.99, pp. 288, ISBN 0340769440 . £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Readers may sympathise with Tracey Emin. Her big mouth and huge appetite for selfadvertisement make her a ready target; she's so shameless and yet, by her own account, so abused. ('And then they started: "SLAG, SLAG, SLAG." A gang of blokes, most of whom I'd had sex with at some time or other...') Life has dealt her a raw yet currently rewarding deal. And now that she's a proper celebrity, as real as Cindy Sherman -- the photographer of a thousand guises -- and much more in-your-face, she owes it to her public to keep delivering, living her dreams, spicing resolutions with relapses.

Margate's most famous daughter grew up in what were, by her account, intermittently abject circumstances. A mostly absent Turkish Cypriot father, a mother resourceful enough to help herself to lead from roofs when broke, a fitful formal education, a feral sex education and catastrophic front teeth: she had it all up to here, that's to say up to the point where she had to either sink or swim. Buoyant, she finds herself, at the age of 42, issuing an autobiography that wrings out the memories with a self-indulgence bordering on infatuation. 'I thought with my body, ' she claims. Leading with her chin, she has filled these pages using lots of old material, pieces reprinted from ID magazine ('The Proper Steps for Dealing with an Unwanted Pregnancy'), GQ ('The Mummy Screams') and other such outlets.

These writings are a mixture of heartfelt missives and slurp resembling homework long overdue. They read like extended versions of her insecurity blankets, the ones with attractively misspelt words appliquéd all over, though here, for once, Spellcheck has been employed.

'Trying to make sense of everything', as she says, is a fitful task. Grand-dad Emin had four wives; great-great-great-grandfather was a slave 'in the Ottoman empire'.

As for the great-great-great-grand-daughter herself, she inhabits an empire of the imagination broken down for editorial convenience into Traceyland, Motherland, Fatherland, Strangeland and Dreamland.

In these parts she's the focus of attention, of course, and never more so than when she came a close second to Paul, her twin brother. 'When I was born, they thought I was dead.' Between babyhood and adulthood came the setbacks that are taking the artist a lifetime to savour, with self-help manuals providing supportive vocabulary. 'Like a wounded bird I began to rebuild myself, using the experience of failure as my foundation, ' she trills. Valentine's Day 1988:

the post arrives. 'Nothing there for me -- no love. No one loved me, I started to cry.' This is the type of emotional fix that provokes Emin's best work, her scratchy drawings of splayed legs and wishbone bodies, terse and sharp. Words fail her more. She keeps trying to be Andy Warhol the diarist but lacks his laconic tone. …

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