Tracey Emin in conversation with Lynn Barber, ‘Show and Tell’, The Observer, 22 April 2001, online.
In Fantastic to Feel Beautiful Again, Tracey Emin’s distinctive script glows in searing blue neon. Created in 1997, two years before she was nominated for the Turner Prize, this work narrates the moment that young British art took the world by storm. An indelible part of the media designated YBA group of artists – an infamous cohort that alongside Emin, boasted Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas as its main protagonists – Emin courted international attention for a no-holds-barred approach to interweaving artistry and autobiography. Chronologically situated between her breakthrough piece, Everyone I have ever slept with, 1963-1995 (1995) and the ground-breaking My Bed (1998), the present work is fuelled by the relentless vortex of emotion that constitutes a practice in which art is life, and life is art. With Emin’s work we are invited into her world, a 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 glorious reality. Indeed, with Emin, the genre of realism takes on a bold conceptual edge, updated for the Twenty-First Century. As Rudi Fuchs has explained: “[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).
Adopting the medium of neon and building on the post-modernist canon established by conceptual artists of the 1960s, principally Joseph Kosuth and Bruce Nauman, Emin’s neons re-write the knowing word play of her male forebears. In contrast to the neutrality of Kosuth and Nauman's capital letters, Emin’s are articulated in her signature expressive handwriting; the effect emphasises the personal nature of her commentary. However, examples such as the present work, Fabulous to Feel Beautiful Again, or Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Cover My Body in Love (1996) go beyond the purely personal; they are mantra-like statements that bespeak a kind of everyman/woman. First uttered in Emin’s voice, these words express a universality that is at once saccharine and kitsch, yet allude to a yearning or needfulness that belies their sentimentality. Words play an enormously important role for Emin; they appear appliqued onto patchwork quilts, sewn on chairs and into tents, scratched into the plates of her prints, and, as in the present work, emblazoned in the tantalising electric glow of a neon sign. As Emin herself has contended: “I don't think I'm visually the best artist in the world, right? I've got to be honest about this. 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). Ultimately, Emin’s art is about communicating in the most unguarded and urgent way, communicating her thoughts, sharing her feelings and experiences in the form of searingly honest confessionals. “I want society to hear what I am saying”, Emin states, “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).
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