Tracey Emin: Exploration of the Soul, 1994 – a personal reflection

Fellow student Catherine (#514913) brought to my attention the diaries by Tracey Emin in context of dealing with suffer, death and our reflection and feelings how we can (should, would) apply and use them of our own art making. Especially if those feelings are mediated through others e.g. patients.

Tracey Emin (b. 1963) wrote 1994 over a time period of 10 days a diary from memory about her childhood at the age between 6 and 13, called Exploration of the Soul. These notes in A4 format (graphite on 32 papers) were acquired and published by Tate 2004. Her traumatic childhood, with a sad culimnation of her rape at the age of 13, articulated and mediated through her ‘confessions’ are perhaps a unique honets disclosure, It also resonate with a wider reception of  provocative, direct, honest and shocking expressions alongside autobiographic statements and going public in context of that time. Tracey Emin, a graduate from Maidstone College of Art (1986), which is now the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), and The Royal College of Art, London (1989), was a member of the Young British Artists (YBAs). She destroyed all her work after a complicate abortion in 1990 and thought of becoming a writer. These diaries could be seen as a turning point for her towards the later autobiographical installations e.g. My Bed, 1998

Besides those direct and disarming statements one could possibly sense elements of voyeurism, narcissism and self-promotion. I looked partly how theses aspects became visible realities, e.g. in reality TV, in my assignment three.

I am thinking which aspects are dominant and what about the other side, the personal and individual, the psychic side of the artist. But more it reflects back on my own biography and a time when I ‘wrote’ many visual diaries as a way to stabilize myself and to feel comfort in sketching down my troubles and battles. Would or should I publish those? Or, in context of Emin, re-write/sketch from my present state as memories and re-called sensations? And which message I would like to get across? Pehaps: talking about repressed traumatic events (as Emin’s rape as a child)

It also makes me think of my voice as an artist, or becoming-artist: What and how do I want to express myself and which aspects do I want to keep concealed and which ones disclose? And what would be my motivation for either-or? And how to include intersubjective feelings, patient’s troubles that touch me deeply? Is art merely a way to ‘treat’ as self-healing or is there more to communicate with the world? To address visually topics that can touch others further? Why to conceal and keep it for myself?

I am wondering how I could possibly approach these questions, and what would be needed to overcome shyness, inner barriers, and a point where one just wants to scream out what troubles personally. In case of Emin, I can sense a necessity to do something, and art could be seen as a kind of healing or therapy, to feel connected with one’s own past, to integrate memories into a self.

Overall, I feel that, as discussed in the OCA forum related to meaning of photographs, the meaning of artwork does not reside so much in the intention of the author, artist but in the responses evokes by the artworks in the beholders’ embodied mind. An emotional response related to own memories and biography, at times very similiar to others, kind of inter-subjectivity, and at times very personal that could mark a turning point. Art plays a role here regardless of the medium



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