She got there eventually x
If you’re asked to imagine a Tracey Emin artwork, there’s a pretty good chance that one of her famed installations come to mind: the appliquéd tent of the confessional “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963 – 1995” (1995), or the squalid sheets of “My Bed” (1998). That’s unless you make a habit of visiting 10 Downing Street. In that case, you might be more familiar with the neon artwork “More Passion”, which the Turner Prize-winning artist gifted to the UK government back in 2011.
Need a refresher on who was in power in 2011? Prepare to be disappointed. The year before, a David Cameron-led Tory government was elected in coalition with the Lib Dems, and quickly got to work on raising university fees and ushering in more than a decade of austerity. Apparently, the new prime minister himself invited Emin to create the artwork, and later had it hung outside the first-floor Terracotta Room, which was commonly used to host visitors.
Now, though, Emin has decided that “More Passion” isn’t appropriate for 10 Downing Street, thanks to the “partygate” controversy that threatens the position of the building’s current occupant, Boris Johnson.
“This is my neon that hangs at 10 Downing Street,” the Turner-winning artist writes in a January 19 Instagram post, alongside an image of the artwork. “It was a gift from myself to the government art collection. I am now in the process of requesting that my art work be removed from 10 Downing Street. I feel More Passion is the last thing this present government needs. This current situation is shameful.”
“I gave (the artwork) as a gift, I’m not asking for it back,” she adds (via the Guardian). “The artwork belongs to the government, not whoever’s in power right now. It could hang in the British embassy in Cairo, or go back into storage. There are many places it could go, but just right at the moment I don’t think it’s a very good idea if it’s at 10 Downing Street.”
Obviously, Emin’s disappointment in the current government is understandable. As the artist puts it, the Tories have been caught hosting garden parties and “bring your own booze” get-togethers while locked-down citizens were “holding funerals through their telephones”.
“I just find the (prime minister’s) behaviour and lack of contrition bizarre,” she adds.
Officially requesting that her artwork is removed from 10 Downing Street, however, begs the question: why now? Hasn’t the Conservative government done worse things than eating cheese and wine in the garden over the last 12 years? Well, yes, and here’s a handy list of all the worst things they did before Emin decided that enough was enough.
HOW ABOUT WHEN THEY TRIPLED UNIVERSITY FEES?
Admittedly, this was before Emin donated ”More Passion” to the government’s collection on Cameron’s invitation, but, in a way, that kind of makes it worse. Immediately after taking office in 2010, the Tory coalition government raised university tuition fees to £9,000. Besides giving the Lib Dems whiplash from the force of their massive U-turn, this kick-started nationwide protests, as students campaigned for a future without extortionate debt.
Why should Emin care about unrealistic student fees? Well, besides the fact she studied in the 80s – meaning that her tuition was effectively free – she recently spoke about the importance of accessibility, as she detailed plans for her own art school in Margate. “I’m not having people having part-time jobs and then never coming in,” she says. “So, I’m setting it up so they... will have time to work and paint.”
Does it sound like the majority of young people will have time to paint while paying off a £9,000-per-year loan? No, it does not.
OR THE RACISM, MAYBE?
Back in 2017, Tracey Emin announced that she would donate more than $85,000 to fund a Syrian student’s studies at Bard College Berlin, as the refugee crisis made headlines across the world. “I want to help and try to make things better, but in a way in which I know I can,” she told the Art Newspaper at the time. “If just one student makes it through that course and does something great with their life, for me it’s all been worth it.”
“I love being an artist, I love my work, and when I see the atrocities taking place in this world, I realise how lucky I am.”
By then, though, the UK government had already proven its inadequacy when it came to dealing with asylum seekers and migrants. As reported by the Guardian at the end of the 2010s, it had one of the lowest refugee acceptance rates in Europe, and those that did make it into the country were (and are) treated with hostility.
Then, of course, there’s the Windrush scandal in 2018, which proved that even legal migrants aren’t safe. Still, “More Passion” hung in Number 10, then home to Theresa May, head of a government that was arguably responsible for its own portion of “the atrocities taking place in this world”.
OK, Tracey Emin herself actually spoke out about this one, expressing regret for cosying up to Cameron and his New Labour predecessor, Tony Blair, in the wake of the vote to leave the EU. “It really aggrieves me to know that I supported both of these men,” she said at an exhibition launch in 2019 (via Politico), and went on to voice her support for a second Brexit referendum.
Then again, at the same opening she also declared that Cameron and Blair — who she called out for his immoral invasion of Iraq, by the way — were “fine politicians and essentially good people, (who) will be remembered in history for doing the most terrible things to our political system and I don’t understand why they fell for it, I don’t understand why they did it”. Hmm, maybe they were just overcome with patriotic “Passion”?
WHAT ABOUT THEIR ANTIPATHY TO THE ARTS?
Ironically, given their love of Young British Artists like Tracey Emin, the Tories have an abominable track record when it comes to actual young, British artists. Could it be because their work doesn’t also come with million-pound price tags? Surely not.
But you’d think that Emin would have wanted to distance herself from a government with an obvious disregard for the arts, especially during the pandemic, which has seen Tories suggest that creatives simply retrain as something more useful, while slashing funding for courses in “dead-end” subjects such as music and art. But no, it was the garden parties that did it.
Incidentally, Downing Street has now announced that it will hold talks with Emin about her request for the artwork’s removal. “My understanding is that the work was gifted to the government art collection with an agreement to initially display it in No 10,” says a spokesperson for Boris Johnson. “We will obviously now discuss the location of the work with the artist, and I believe it will remain part of the government art collection that displays works in a number of locations.”