Page last updated at 07:57 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 08:57 UK

Emin bares all in new exhibition

By Caroline Briggs
Arts and culture reporter, BBC News

Tracey Emin at Those Who Suffer Love

Those Who Suffer Love is the title of Tracey Emin's first London exhibition in four years.

Never one to shy away from the controversial, the exhibition at the White Cube gallery features drawings of naked figures, as well as a film animation of a woman masturbating.

But love, Emin insists, is at the very heart of the show.

"Love never comes easy," she says.

"Even if we are madly in love, it always comes with a price. Even if you are in love for 60 years one of you is still going to die first. We are never released from the pain of love."

Bathed in green neon glow, the centrepiece of the exhibition is a flick-book style animation of a woman masturbating, writhing in high heels, her legs splayed.

I don't have the same craziness about sex that I used to have. I'm more interested in ideas.
Tracey Emin

"[Masturbation] is not just about self-love, it's also about self-loathing and being alone and for the act of being alone," Emin explains.

"For me drawing is a very personal, lonely process and doesn't involve anyone else. it involves my imagination, so I think there are very strong parallels."

Emin was inspired by pictures in vintage pornography magazines for the animation, and laughs off suggestions that she is the woman in the throes of animated pleasure.

"I wish it was me," she jokes.

But it is a question Emin expects to be asked. This is the woman who wears her heart on her art, whose unmade bed became a national talking point, and who once embroidered a tent with the names of everyone she had ever slept with.

These days, at the age of 45, she is less interested in sex.

Those Who Suffer Love
The exhibition also features pages from an 18-year-old diary

"I don't have the same craziness about sex that I used to have. I'm more interested in ideas. That's a strange thing to come to terms with."

None of Emin's work on display at Jay Jopling's central London venue has been seen in public before. Spread over three rooms at White Cube, each features its own facet of Emin's personality.

"Upstairs is about the pure idea of it all," she explains, referring to the animated piece which faces a green neon sign spelling out Those Who Suffer Love.

"The pink room, that's the sex room - that's what's between my legs.

"The big room - which I call the psycho chamber - that's about what goes on in my head, so you've got these different emotions and different feelings."

The "psycho chamber" includes pages from an 1991 diary, as well as Emin's familiar embroideries and appliques on blankets and scraps of fabric.

The neutral palette contrasts sharply with the shocking pink neon that illuminates the naked line drawings in the adjoining room.

'Credit crunch'

"The show itself is very linear, it's very pure with simple ideas," Emin explains.

"There isn't much colour, it's very monotone, and it's not all fleshed out with loads of things."

There's a giggle from Emin as she refers to the exhibition as her "credit crunch show", but there is a more than a hint of truth in the cliche.

I've got 50% of people with me, and 50% of people will never be with me
Tracey Emin

"This show has been planned for two years, not necessarily this work, but the idea it would be a drawing show.

"I think it is perfect timing, emotionally, politically and socially with what is happening in Britain at the moment.

"If there had been trumpets playing, and 'bang, bang' and loads of colours and sparklers going off, it wouldn't have felt right for me, and it wouldn't have felt appropriate.

"My psyche is kind of tuned in to what's going on. It's sombre, but we are in strange sombre times. Also it's very honest; it's very stripped back."

Its Emin's intense honesty during her rise to become queen bee of the YBAs (Young British Artists) that has helped her become a target for the critics.

Despite her bullish "sod them" attitude, Emin is scared of how the critics will react. But the personal attacks, not comments about her work, get under her skin.

"Criticise my work, but don't criticise the way I speak, don't criticise my teeth, don't criticise the way that I dress - it doesn't relate to my work," she says.

"It hurts me, it upsets me. They should understand the difference between personal attack and criticism of the work.

"These days I expect the worst from the critics because it doesn't matter what I do, but then I'm not trying to please them, I'm trying to work something out for myself.

"And if people do relate to my work that's great, I've done something. I think I've got 50% of people with me, and 50% of people will never be with me."

Tracey Emin's Those Who Suffer Love is on show at the White Cube Gallery until 4 July.

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