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Tracy Emin with Barry Barker


On Thursday 27th November 2003, hundred of students swarmed to the Sallis Benney Theatre, University of Brighton, to see and hear Tracy Emin, to praise her and to argue with her.

Tracy Emin made a special visit to the University of Brighton on 27th November to take questions from students and Barry Barker, Principal Research Fellow, Faculty of Arts and Architecture.

The proceedings began spectacularly with a demonstration of Emin’s quick tongue and gift for verbal self defence as one student vehemently accused her having a ‘capitalist noose’ around her neck. Emin mercilessly but eloquently defended her corner and the unlikely dissertation writer was silenced.

From that point the discussion flowed smoothly with Tracy taking questions from students such as What are your first memories of wanting to be an artist? How would you describe your ideal spectator? and Is your work emotionally healing?

Read on for more details of answers to questions:

What are your first memories of wanting to be an artist?
My first memory is of my twin brother and myself, I had a pink teat on my milk bottle and he had a blue one…..that’s not really an art memory as such! My first memory of being an artist was walking into my own show at the South London Gallery (link in 1997 and thinking ‘I’ve arrived’.

Did you need an MA to be successful?
I did my MA at the Royal College of Art. The best thing about doing my MA at the Royal College was getting that piece of paper saying I got in. It went downhill from there. On the course I found out what I didn’t want to do. I found out I didn’t want to make paintings that would be shown and sold and then put in people’s houses. Now, I am not known for that. I have a voice. Art is about communication and that is what I do.

How would you describe your ideal spectator?
If you take the idea of a triangle where Nicholas Serota and Charles Saatchi are at the top of the triangle and then all the way down at the bottom are the majority of people – those people are my audience. Those people support the top layers. All those who wouldn’t ordinarily visit a gallery but might read a review, which slates me, so decide to come and have a look at my work, are my audience too. I want to communicate with all those people.

Is your work emotionally healing?
It was at first, but not now – now I’m on my way to something new, I’m not looking back.

Why is your work successful?
I hit the right time. Things have changed in Britain over the last few years. When Diana died there was mass demonstration of public emotion with people crying in the street. That broke down barriers. I think that people just ‘get’ my work now in a way that people would not have done if people were more private about their emotions. Also, I am here to defend my work. When I die it won’t be the same. People will write stuff about me that I won’t be able to defend.

How do you make your work?
Tracy told a story about how she came to make her infamous tent, Everyone I Have Ever Slept with 1963-1994, which contains 102 names appliquéd on the inside:
I was going to be in a show at the South London Gallery called Minky Manky (1995), curated by my then boyfriend Carl Freedman with Sarah Lucas and some others. At that time Sarah was quite famous, but I wasn’t at all. Carl said to me that I should make some big work as he thought the small-scale stuff I was doing at the time wouldn’t stand up well. I was furious. Making that work was my way at getting back at him. One review was really funny, the journalist had written something like ‘She’s slept with everyone – even the curator’!

What is coming up next?
I have been working on a feature film. It’s called Top Spot and is set in a teen disco in Margate and is a rights of passage film starring 5 girls. It’s low budget and will be released nation-wide in the new year. Those who like my work will love it and those who don’t will hate it. No one will think its ‘OK’, it is definitely going to be a love or hate thing.

Tracy Emin is currently exhibiting at the Counter Gallery in London until January 20th 2004

This event is one in a series of talks given by contemporary artists organised by the University of Brighton. Next on the stage are twin sister video artists Jane and Louise Wilson.


Contact: Marketing and Communications, University of Brighton, 01273 643022