Tracey Emin cited in: Charlotte Cripps, ‘Stitches in time: Quilt-making as contemporary art’, The Independent, 15 March 2010, online
Demonstrating the visceral force of human emotion, I Think it’s in my head (2002) is a powerful example of Tracey Emin’s profound and provocative visual practice. Renowned for her brutal honesty and poetic humour, Emin lays bare her greatest weaknesses and vulnerabilities in her art, which self-reflexively explores the overwhelming fallibility of the human psyche. Boldly, bravely, and brazenly she invites us into her inner world of raw feeling, aggression, pain, insecurity, intensity, love, hate, highs and lows: hers is a body of work that speaks the language of humanity in all its imperfect and inconsistent glory. As art historian Rudi Fuchs attests, “[Emin] has introduced a practice of realism, and a particular honesty, from which there is no returning. She is an honest realist” (Rudi Fuchs, ‘A Particular Honesty’ in: Rudi Fuchs et al., Tracey Emin: Works 1963/2006, New York 2006, p. 397).
I Think it’s in my head was exhibited in 2002 at Lehmann Maupin, New York, in a solo show named after the title of the work, emphasising its potent significance within Emin’s oeuvre. Entrenched with personal intrigue and aesthetic allure, the work comes from Emin’s celebrated cycle of appliquéd blankets, begun as early as 1993. To create these evocative and searingly beautiful patchworks, Emin would cut up old clothes imbued with sentimental value, before physically stitching them into a quilt, square by square. This laborious process offers a compelling metaphor for the artist’s attempt at piecing together fragments of her past. As eminent curator Sue Prichard notes, “Quilts stimulate memories of warmth, security and home, yet their layers can also conceal hidden histories and untold stories” (Sue Prichard cited in: Charlotte Cripps, ‘Stitches in time: Quilt-making as contemporary art’, The Independent, 15 March 2010, online). Such deep-rooted feelings of ambivalence are quite literally stitched into the fabric of Emin’s work.
The incorporation of text has long been an important part of Emin’s practice, appearing scrawled and strewn over everything. As if pouring out of her in an unstoppable stream-of-consciousness, words are sewn onto chairs and into tents, scratched into the plates of her prints, emblazoned in her distinctive handwriting in the electric glow of a neon sign, stitched, as in the present work, onto the soft fabric of her patchwork quilts. Driven by a primal urgency, Emin’s words share moments of beauty and pain, paranoia and desire, that expose the kaleidoscopic fragility of human experience. Tearing back the confines of social norms, she states: “I want society to hear what I am saying… For me, being an artist isn’t just about making nice things or people patting you on the back; it’s some kind of communication, a message... about very, very simple things that can be really hard. People do get really lonely, people do get really frightened, people do fall in love, people do die, people do fuck. These things happen and everyone knows it but not much of it is expressed. Everything’s covered with some kind of politeness, continually, and especially in art…” (Tracey Emin in conversation with Stuart Morgan, ‘The Story of I’, Frieze, Issue 36, May 1997, p. 60). Unashamedly communicating the most intimate expressions of her inner being, Emin’s visceral words shift from private experience to universal truth.
Composed at the height of Emin’s meteoric rise to art world stardom, I Think it’s in my head is fuelled by the relentless vortex of emotion that has defined the artist’s career. Part of the ground-breaking YBA group, alongside the likes of Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Jenny Saville, Emin courted international attention for her no-holds-barred approach to interweaving artistry and autobiography. The artist has stated that her quilts were originally intended as blankets for a bed, and indeed the present work recalls the explicit intimacy of Emin’s breakthrough pieces Everyone I have ever slept with, 1963-1995 (1995) and My Bed (1998). Emin’s poignant exploitations of language as a means of baring her soul to the world have positioned her as amongst the most important artists working today. “I don't think I'm visually the best artist in the world, right? I've got to be honest about this,” she states, in a typically candid manner; “But when it comes to words, I have a uniqueness that I find almost impossible in terms of art – and it's my words that actually make my art quite unique” (Tracey Emin in conversation with Lynn Barber, ‘Show and Tell’, The Observer, 22 April 2001, online).
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