Tracey Emin isn’t an artist to shirk embarrassment. The unflinchingly autobiographical nature of her work has led her to stray repeatedly beyond the outer limits of what most people would be comfortable sharing about their private lives, their sexual experiences, and their interior worlds.
While she’s famously expressed herself through a number of different mediums – including painting, print-making, drawing, photography, installations, appliqué, sculpture, and neon text – her film work is perhaps less well known, even though it’s been integral to her practice for three decades. “I made so many films when I was younger. I used to take a Super 8 camera everywhere,” she explained in a recent statement. “For me, it was a true way of expressing myself.”
Tracey Emin, Video Works, 1995-2017 at Xavier Hufkens is the first comprehensive survey of her prolific film work, showing her well known short films such as Why I Never Became a Dancer (1995) and How It Feels (1996) alongside more obscure, rarely seen before works such as Niagra (1997) and Love is a strange thing (2000). Including 15 works spanning over 30 years of her life, the online exhibition allows a closer encounter with the artist as she confronts traumatic experiences of abortion, slut-shaming, and early sexual encounters.
Alongside the moments of transcendent joy and humour Emin frequently captures on film, she also excavates challenging passages in her life with the kind of commitment to candid self-examination that writer David Rimanelli compares to a kind of psychological and artistic sadomasochism. His accompanying text calls attention to Emin’s instinct to run naked and headlong – both literally and metaphorically – towards public exposure and the kind of revelation that few would be brave enough to admit to themselves, let alone commit to celluloid.
Rimanelli draws comparisons between Emin and the writer and socialite Lady Caroline Blackwood – the notorious, charismatic aristocrat whose natural sense of entitlement led her to commit numerous infractions of what was considered feminine and polite. “She was slovenly. There was trash. Dad was a marquis and mum was a Guinness so she can, you can’t,” he writes. “But Tracey can and will because Tracey is.” As enfants terribles in their own distinct worlds, both extraordinary women are not bound by the conventions that keep most of us in check. They are, muses Rimanelli, “speakers of uncomfortable truths who are themselves uncomfortable truths”.
Take a look at the trailer below for a glimpse of Tracey Emin’s video works, while the gallery above features a range of stills from the many films being shown in the exhibition.
Tracey Emin, Video Works, 1995-2017 is a digital exhibition showing at Xavier Hufkens until January 23 2022