Where’s the Criticality, Tracey? A Performative Stance Towards Contemporary Art Practice
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Tracey Emin’s bed is in the Tate Museum. Flanked by two portraits by Francis Bacon, My Bed (1998) is almost inviting. Displayed on an angle, it gestures for us to climb under the covers, amongst stained sheets, used condoms and empty vodka bottles - detritus of Emin’s life. This is not the first time My Bed has been shown in the Tate. The 2015-17 exhibitions of this work are, in a sense, a homecoming, reminiscent of the work’s introduction to the British public. Short-listed for the 1999 Turner Prize, My Bed made headlines: How dare she put her bed in a gallery and call it Art? Yet dare she does. Emin shows what we repress - the repugnant entrails of her personal life are splayed out, exhibited for all to see. My Bed invites disgust. Its commonplace content provokes a visceral response. This work does not afford us the luxury of critical distance: How do we come to be looking? I look to My Bed as a point of departure, a paradigm for exploring the exchange that takes place between artist, art object and audience. Performativity - the idea that things are only real to the extent that they are performed, acts as a theoretical frame for this discussion. Here, written, spoken, physical and material communication practices produce, rather than merely describe, the subjects and objects that they involve. Far from presenting a totalising theory of art, or for that matter experience, my aim is to contribute to efforts to position knowledge as situated within lived experience. This is my partial perspective; an iteration of my own practice. This document is an artefact, residue of my academic performance - no less ephemeral than the coffee cups on my desk nor the cigarette butts littering Emin’s bed.