Monday, August 15, 2011

The British Word continued...Tracey Emin

Terrebly wrong, 1997 (monoprint)

Terminal 1 (2000)

I do not expect to be a mother (2002)

Tracey Emin, to a similar effect, ironically employs a medium – the quilt – that appears to contradict its content – feminist and fierce remarks. In I do not expect to be a mother, confessional phrases in shouting capitals such as ‘i do not expect to be a mother but i expect to die alone’ and ‘it doesn’t have to be like this’ pierce the quilt. The painstaking process of sewing conveys the purposefulness of thought put into the messages. Yet the angry and pessimistic undertones belie the gentle and domestic connotations of sewing. Indeed, in Emin’s quilts, the words are the center of attention; they are valued for their directness, for their ability to forcefully deliver messages. Importantly though, it is the pairing of the words with the quilt image – the semiotic link of content to context – that creates the feminist and provocative tone of her works.

As with Hockney and other artists, Emin’s language is deeply personal, as she frequently draws on her own sexual experiences. However, in keep with another British trend, she includes a universal, socially critical aspect to her work: the commentary on male dominance and spectatorship. Her work gives a powerful voice to the female. Her use of the quilt alludes to the Suffragettes, who used “appliquéd texts and banners…in women’s…protests” (Betterton, 38). Thus even though Emin inscribes personal remarks, she appears to be making a larger gesture for her gender when she uses a form that is symbolically significant of both female subservience and defiance. This is made especially obvious in her piece, Terminal 1, which begins with several personal references to a relationship but ends on the firm note: ‘i am international woman.’

Emin’s monoprints likewise gain their meaning from the combination of aesthetics, medium and language. In a contemporary tradition, a close reading of the words’ aesthetics heightens the words’ literal message. In the monoprints, unlike the quilts, the words and images have a sketch-like, nearly illegible quality. The spectator struggles to make out the inversed lettering and crossed out words, and in so doing inevitably feels the frustration and difficulty in communication. As in sewing, the trace on the monoprint is difficult to remove and thus requires a conscious construction of words. However, Emin exposes her mistakes to a greater extent in the monoprints, leaving the spectator to feel “the apparent immediacy” in her words (Townsend, 82). Indeed, she aims for “people to see what was there before”; thus not only is there a sense of self-exposure, but there is also that British desire to be honest, and the more recent desire to be blunt with the viewer (Emin quoted by Wainwright, 202).

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