Magazine article The Spectator

Attention Seeking

Magazine article The Spectator

Attention Seeking

Article excerpt

DO NOT EXPECT TO BE A MOTHER. BUT I DO EXPECT TO DIE ALONE' (applique patchwork blanket, 2002). What do the sculptress Barbara Hepworth, wife to John Skeaping and Ben Nicholson, and Tracey Emin have in common? Simply that they anticipated and feared the loss of independence that comes with motherhood. Both stepped out from the out-of-focus ranks of the second-league -the Gwen Johns, Lizzie Siddonses, Camille Claudels, Berthe Morisots - onto the inverts path of single-mindedness, tenacity, and total absorption in art for art's sake. Hepworth boarded out her triplets, fathered by Nicholson, in a children's home during their babyhood. Emin collects abortions along with babies' shoes and Moses baskets, and is pulled back to the problem of conception again and again, like a dog returning to its own vomit.

The Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, now Modern Art Oxford, was astute to launch its rebranded and refurbished building with Emin's second solo show. Her heady blend of narcissism and naivety, insecurity and self-assurance, makes for innovative, confrontational work: she achieved household-name familiarity with works such as her tent stitched with the names of `Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995', (1995), the odd, compellingly witty video, `Love is a Strange Thing' (2000), the soliloquies on assault, under-age sex and suicide attempts.

To jog the attention of the art world in the mid-1990s, Emin made sex the main picture, but in her latest show the 38-yearold fixes on the subject of childbearing with increasing urgency: `SOMETIMES I WANT TO HAVE CHILDREN/not my own but other people's children/Chinese people's children' (`Chinese Girls', embroidery and applique on blanket, 2002). `Feeling Pregnant II' (1999-2002) marries three pairs of babies' shoes with five pages of confessional scrawl: `The idea of going to visit someone's New baby - seems like a nightmare - BUT IF it were A KITTEN - I'd be round LIKE a shot.' She describes a beach scenario and a child running out of the sea to `curl up next to me - she's laughing - we're smiling - the sea's rolling blue - the sun's pelting down ...' Tracey wakes up.

But how much longer can she milk the same material? …

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